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to find that Gervais, who is now tapissier Just a year after this, a great sorrow came valet in my place, has forgotten to put the to Jean-Baptiste in the death of his beloved throne in the bedroom where he wished to sit mother. Monsieur Poquelin's grief was indown for a chat with Cardinal Richelieu- tensified by the sight of the grief of his little Pierre over there-who already has a com- son. He worried a good deal to think there fortable cushioned chair for himself. The was no one to mother young Jean-Baptiste; king is furious and says to the cardinal, and as he had to attend the king frequently, 'What shall I do with him?' and the cardinal he was concerned at having to leave Jeananswers, ‘To the block with him.' And while Baptiste alone so much in the care of servants.
Painted by Mélingue
MOLIÈRE READING ONE OF HIS COMEDIES TO HIS COMPANY OF PLAYERS they are leading Gervais off to prison I slide This probably led him to marry again; and out from behind the arras where I have been fortunately for Jean-Baptiste, his stepwatching to see how my nephew is getting mother was very kind to him. And then along, and I tiptoe out like this, without there was Grandfather Cressé, always debeing seen. When I get outside I say, 'I voted to his little grandson; there was not a thank my stars I got rid of my mantle in better grand père in all the world. Shortly time!' and the curtain goes down."
after Monsieur Poquelin brought his new When he heard all this, and looked into the wife home, he moved to a new and larger comical face of his precocious little grandson, house in the neighborhood of the Halles de la Monsieur Cressé burst into a long and Foire, whose site is now occupied by Number hearty laugh. But as he turned to enter the Thirty-one rue de Pont-Neuf. The three house, he became thoughtful and said to him- years of his boyhood which Jean-Baptiste self, “Only nine years old! Well, who spent here were very happy years; and then knows?” The very next holiday, Grand- came the death of his dear grandfather, a father Cressé took Jean-Baptiste to see a real terrible blow to Jean-Baptiste. play at the Théâtre du Marais, and later, to Fortunately, Jean-Baptiste was now old see a tragedy acted by the celebrated players enough to be sent to one of the great schools of the troupe of the Hôtel de Bourgogne, and where the youth of France were prepared Jean-Baptiste was wild with delight.
for entering the professions. As he had not shown much interest in his father's trade, to attend the king on a journey to Narbonne, Monsieur Poquelin thought his son might whither Louis XIII was about to take his find more in preparing to enter the law. court, and so it happened that young PoqueThe school to which Jean-Baptiste was sent lin took his father's place and himself reat the end of his fourteenth year was the ceived an appointment as tapissier valet to Collège de Clermont, later to become the the king. Thus the spring of 1642 found famous Lycée Louis-le-Grand, which was him at Narbonne. It was a responsible poattended by the sons of many of the most sition for a youth of twenty, but he appears illustrious families of France.
to have acquitted himself of his task with Although Jean-Baptiste had been a very credit, and to have made friends at every quaint little boy, and was now a youth fond turn. of all sorts of liveliness, he was, nevertheless, Perhaps, in the midst of all these things, of a serious turn of mind, and though fond of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin remembered that play, he devoted himself faithfully to his day long before when he and his boy comstudies, for he felt it would not be fair to his panions had asked Grandfather Cressé to father to waste his time when he was being come and see their play of “The Mantle of given the advantages of an education. His my Uncle.” Good old Grandfather Cressé! companions admired him for his big-hearted- Perhaps it had not been such a foolish little ness, and it was not long before he became play after all! Well, whatever it may have one of the most popular boys in school. been, something set young Poquelin to Moreover, Jean-Baptiste was kind to the thinking the office of tapissier valet quite as boys who were younger than himself, and distasteful as the law; and so, having reached often befriended them in many ways. his twenty-first birthday, and having come Among these was the Prince de Conti, some into an inheritance from his mother's estate years young Poquelin's junior. He was the sufficient to secure his independence for a brother of the Duc d'Enghien (then just while, he resigned his duties, which MonJean-Baptiste's own age), who later became sieur Poquelin appears to have re-assumed. the Prince of Condé, one of the greatest Young Poquelin did not return imgenerals in French history, and known as the mediately to Paris. In December, the great Grand Condé.
Cardinal Richelieu had breathed his last; "I shall never forget you, Poquelin," said and in May, the death of the king brought to the prince to Jean-Baptiste one day, "and the throne Louis XIV, then but four years sometime you shall see my big brother.” old, although he did not reign until he That the prince did not forget young Poque- reached sixteen. In these years Paris was lin, we shall see later on.
very much upset by political turmoil, and Jean-Baptiste spent five happy years at Jean-Baptiste Poquelin decided to remain school. Perhaps one of the things in which in the provinces. At this time he had fallen he most delighted were the frequent theat- in with the Béjarts, members of a troupe of rical performances there in which the stu- strolling players from Paris, actors of such dents took part. He himself proved very superior talents that young Poquelin declever, and his inimitable acting won him the cided to cast his fortunes with them. It was applause of all who witnessed these amateur not long before his natural gift for actplays.
ing developed into a finished performance; “There,” his preceptors would whisper to moreover, his keen observation of the ways one another, "there is a born play-actor, this of men and manners led him to write little young Poquelin!” Time proved their judg- comedies which the company played with ment correct.
success. Besides this, his affability, honesty, Young Poquelin left the Collège de Cler- and executive ability soon found him the mont at the age of nineteen. Although he virtual manager of the troupe. had studied faithfully, and appears to have About this time, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin received his diploma in law, he decided added the nom-de-théâtre, or stage-name, of that he had a distaste for that profession. Molière to his own, thus becoming JeanTo please his father, he helped him for a Baptiste Poquelin Molière, although he was while in his business; for now Poquelin père known thereafter as Molière. And so we had a very important establishment and shall call him from now on, for this is the Jean-Baptiste's knowledge of law served him name by which he became famous in the anin good stead. About this time, Monsieur nals of French literature, ranking among the Poquelin found it inconvenient or impossible greatest writers France has ever produced. Just why Jean-Baptiste chose the name running harmoniously and smoothly. Poor Molière is a mystery he never explained, roads, inclement weather, wretched inns, ineven to his most intimate friends, nor has it hospitable villages, and unaccommodating ever been solved.
local officials who had to be wheedled and Although young Molière was enthusiastic cajoled into granting permission for the perabout his new profession, he was not con- formances were some of the things that ceited. Once he essayed to act a tragic strolling players had to contend with, but part which particularly struck his fancy, but the genius of young Molière overcame them it was a miserable failure, either because he all. was not suited to such rôles, or because he Theaters for strolling players were usually did not rant and declaim in the manner of arranged in the enclosed abandoned tennisthe old-time tragedians of that day to whom courts which dated from the Middle Ages, the public was used. But instead of being before the old game had ceased to be popular, crestfallen about it, he only laughed, and and which were to be found in all the leading declared that now he knew enough to stick to towns. The stage was constructed at one the comedy parts. As this performance end of the enclosure and hung round with took place in the city of Rouen, it is quite tapestries. The entrances and the exits likely that Pierre Corneille, France's greatest were, we are told, made through these heavy writer of tragedies, witnessed the performance curtains, a difficult thing for the actors to do of this young actor, who was some sixteen gracefully or with dignity. Candles gave the years younger than Corneille.
only light in the theater, and these had to When Molière was twenty-three, he took be snuffed frequently, even though it interhis company to Paris, hoping to meet there rupted the actors in the midst of declaiming with success. Indeed, he did appear once their lines. The music for the play was before the young king at Fontainebleau, furnished by a flute and a tambour, or by where the seven-year-old monarch was in two fiddlers. The price of the most expenresidence; but this mark of royal favor failed sive seats was about ten cents in our money, to support the venture, and one disappoint- the cheapest seats costing five cents. Specment after another followed, until at last the tators were admitted at one o'clock, and the company was reduced to such straits that it play began promptly at two. Such was a was unable to buy candles to light its theater. provincial theater in the France of Molière's But as no one came to see the plays, it did time, three hundred years ago. not much matter! One possessed of less Little had the young Jean-Baptiste courage than Molière would have given up, guessed of all these hardships in those globut he determined to take the company back rious days of his childhood when Grandto the provinces to retrieve his losses and father Cressé had taken him to see the then, at a more propitious time, he could try players of the Théâtre du Marais and of the Paris again. This was a wise resolve, for Hôtel de Bourgogne; then everything had Paris was then groaning under the burden of seemed like Fairyland. But for all that, outrageous taxes which had been imposed on young Molière was none the less enthusiastic the citizens by Cardinal Richelieu, and or the less determined to surmount all obwhich were retained for some time after stacles to achieve success. He was just over Richelieu's death. Furthermore, the court thirty when he produced "L'Étourdi," the first itself was unsettled, and neither royal nor of his finished pieces, as distinguished from noble patronage was to be depended upon his lighter comedy sketches written for his under these circumstances.
provincial audiences. Could Molière's old Molière's business ability was as great as preceptors of the Collège de Clermont have his literary and dramatic skill, for it was no seen it performed, they would doubtless small matter to attend to all the details of have said “There, there is a born play-writer, moving a company of players from town to this Molière!" just as, years before, they had town. Actors, musicians, costumes, prop- assured themselves that he was a born playerties, hangings, curtains, provisions, and actor. other things had to be hauled from place to About this time it chanced that while place in carts drawn by horses and mules. touring Languedoc, Molière met his old The wear and tear on the company's nerves schoolmate, the Prince de Conti, now one of was as great as the wear and tear on its be- the most important of the young nobles of longings, and it took just such patience and France. In a short time the prince attached tact as Molière possessed to keep things Molière's company to his household, with
a handsome pension, and Molière remained or as an actor, and its emoluments also added under his patronage until the prince grew materially to his income. tired of the drama, and decided to dispense Would that all this might have brought with his troupe.
happiness to this deserving genius; but too Thus it happened that Molière was again often happiness and genius do not walk free to lead his company whither he chose. hand in hand as they ought to do, and it was As all the members of the troupe were pros
so with Molière. He had constantly to perous by now, and Molière himself possessed guard against the jealousies of his rivals, of a snug little fortune by reason of his good who sought his undoing by every means, management and his providence, the troupe though unsuccessfully.
though unsuccessfully. In his home life started touring again, producing Molière's his last years had not been unclouded, for the new comédies, as they appeared, to delighted death of two little sons,-one of them, Louis, audiences; and finally, their pockets clinking the godson of the king,had brought him with gold, the company returned to Paris much sorrow, nor did his young wife possess after a twelve-years' absence, an absence the qualities of appreciating or of helping which had proved a triumph.
him in his great labors. She was capricious Again in Paris, Molière was honored with and vain, extravagant and ungrateful, the attention of Monsieur, the king's brother, though he loved her devotedly and sought to who permitted the company to call itself the forget her neglect. Troupe de Monsieur. The king himself, then “Ah," he would sigh to himself, “if only just twenty, was delighted with Molière's my little sons had been spared me to comfort performances and recognized that in him my old age! And little Louis! how happy France possessed a writer of genius as well Grandfather would have been could he have as a gifted actor. Accordingly, the troupe known a great-grandson would bear his name! soon came to be known as His Majesty's Perhaps they are together. Who knows!" Comedians. Its fortunes continued to rise But Monsieur Molière buried his griefs in thenceforward, and its theater occupied a his work, and continued to produce those great salon in the Palais Royale.
masterpieces of dramatic composition which Ah, what would Grandfather Cressé have were to make his name famous-comedies said had he lived to see that day! There ridiculing the foibles of the men and women would be no tiptoeing off this stage! And of his time, from the highest to the lowest, if “The Mantle of my Uncle” had been dis- the meanest to the noblest. Nothing in life carded, surely the mantle of the Muses had escaped his keen observation, and his imcome to grace Molière's shoulders instead. mortal pen transformed everything it re
But as a matter of fact, Uncle Jean's corded into imperishable literature. mantle had not been discarded at all! True The last play Molière wrote was “Le it is, that when Monsieur Poquelin died, Malade Imaginaire,”—“The Imaginary Init was found that he had provided that the valid,"—and its fourth performance took right to succeed to his office as tapissier et place at four o'clock the afternoon of Febvalet de chambre du roi should go to his son, ruary 16, 1673. The morning of that day, Jean-Baptiste. Perhaps Papa Poquelin had Molière had been feeling ill. His friend, the in his mind, when arranging all this, that the great Boileau, had urged him to give up any time might come when his young actor son thought of acting until he was better, but might regret having taken up with the Molière insisted on taking his part. As the theater, and that he might wish to have curtain was drawn on the la act, Molière something else to fall back upon later. was attacked by a fatal seizure, and kind
When he was informed of this inheritance, Death soon released his noble soul from all Molière decided to accept it, but to continue earth's struggle. Fame traced his name in to write plays and to act in them, since the golden letters on the scroll of immortals, a king was agreeable to this arrangement. name which France reveres as that of the Indeed, Louis found his favorite actor- gifted son, the three hundredth anniversary playwright too valuable to lose; moreover, of whose birth she celebrates this year, a the office of hereditary tapissier valet gave name which stands greatest in her literature. Molière an entrée at court which he could Ah, Grandfather Cressé, we think we hear not possibly have had either as a dramatist you murmuring again “Well, who knows?”'