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Pierre Corneille

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CORNEILLE, PIERRE, the creator of French tragedy, was b. June G, 1606, at Rouen, where his father was an advocate. He himself studied for the legal profession. A love adventure, in which he became the rival of a friend, first prompted C. to write verses, and Helite, the comedy founded on this incident, was performed with success in 1629. It was quickly followed by other dramatic pieces: Clitandre; La Veuve; La Galeriedu PalaLq; La Suirante; and La Place Roycle—all so successful that a special theatrical company was formed for the performance of C.'s pieces. In 1635, appeared his ilThdee, a declamatory drama, written in imitation of Seneca. Cardinal Richelieu, who aspired to be the ]Maecenas of the stage, kept in his pay a number of writers for whom he die, tared plots, and wished to number C. among his retainers; but C. was so audacious as to alter the plan of a comedy, and thus lost the cardinal's favor. He now returned to his native place, where M. Chalon, once secretary to Maria de' Medici, suggested that he should turn his attention to tragedy. As the English drama was not known, or at least not relished at that time beyond the limits of England, C. acquired the Spanish language that he might be enabled to study the Spanish drama, the only other of any consequence in Europe. The result was the Cid (1636), which was received with enthusi astic applause. Cardinal Richelieu alone seemed to find no merit in this drama, and induced the academy to publish a critique in some respects unfavorable. In his next celebrated piece, Horace (1639), C. endeavored to vindicate his claim to creative genius,

which had been questioned by his enemies; but Cinna (1639) has been regarded by some French critics as C.'s masterpiece, though others might be disposed to award this honor to Polyeucte (1640). In the Mort de Pomp& (1641), though there is something dignified in the style, it occasionally passes into bombast. The comedy of Le Menteur (1642), partly taken from Pedro de Roxas, has natural truth and humor. C. now seems to have exhausted his resources, and his later pieces are almost all forgotten. Of his thirty three dramas, only a few have kept their place on the French stage. Nevertheless, his countrymen call him Le grand Corneille, although Voltaire, who edited an edition of his works, and Laharpe have expressed themselves in sonic respects unfavorably regarding his genius. The faults of conception in several of his pieces were pointed out by the sharp criticism of Lessing. A. W. Schlegel also spoke in such a way as to provoke hot replies from the wounded pride of the French litterateurs. C.'s chief merit lies in his dignity of style, and in a certain declamatory grandeur of sentiment, which his country men have been accustomed to consider truly epical, and which it is now impossible to convince them as nearly resembles rant as it does sublimity. C. died Oct. 1, 1684. The best edition of his complete works was edited by Rcnouard (12 vols., 1817).—C.'s brother, Thomas (born 1625—died 1709), also acquired a reputation as a dramatic writer.