The Life And Works Of Jean Racine. -- By: James B. Angell
BSac 14:55 (July 1857) p. 597
The Life And Works Of Jean Racine.1
On the banks of the Ourcq, about fifty miles from Paris stands a town of two thousand inhabitants, called La Ferté-Milon. It is pleasantly situated on an amphitheatre of hills, which rise gently from the river-side. The stream winds far away through the rich meadows, and disappears between the distant wood-crowned summits. The whole valley presents one of those quiet pictures of rural happiness and peace, which the imagination so naturally paints to itself as the birth-place and home of a poet. There is little in the general appearance of the town to distinguish it from other old French towns, except an ancient castle of the twelfth century, the scene of many a wondrous tale, which the gossiping market-women hand down from generation to generation. But on the chief square stands a marble statue of Jean Racine, with whose lasting fame the name of La Ferté-Milon is indissolubly connected; for that humble town was his native place.
He was born on the twenty-first of December, 1639. As his mother died when he was three years of age, and his father only two years later, he was left to the care of his
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maternal grand-parents. The grandfather died when young Racine was only eleven years old, and the grandmother retired to the convent of Port-Royal-des-Champs, where two of her daughters were already living. The boy was sent to a school in Beauvais, to learn the rudiments of Latin; but, at the age of sixteen, he repaired to Port Royal, then the home of classical learning, and the stronghold of opposition to the Jesuits. There, in the retirement of a cloister, some of the ripest scholars and profoundest thinkers of France were devoting their lives to earnest study and the service of God. Their influence upon their favorite pupil may be said to have shaped his character, and decided his mental habits. “A dim religious light” colors the whole pathway of his life. His excessive timidity, his extreme sensitiveness, his earnest, if not erroneous, ideas of devotion, were all created or fostered in that quiet retreat. This, as we shall see, was in some respects unfortunate. His was a nature which needed to be strengthened by battling with the rough elements of actual life, rather than to be mellowed and enervated by the unbroken peace of monastic seclusion. But it was at Port Royal that he received that rare and finished culture which makes his works now classic. There he lived in that sweet communion with the tragic poets of ancient Greece, which seemed at times to have transformed his very nature; there he learned to transport himself back to the days when Hector loved and Ajax fought, and, catching the very spiri...
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