17 MAY 1879, Page 23

Foreign Classics for English Readers.—Moliere. By Mrs. Oliphant and F.

Tarver, MA. (Blackwoods.)—What a pity, we think, first, -that any should be only "English" readers !—so true is the remark made in the introduction to this volume, that "the rapid grace of Moliere's dialogue it is scarcely possible to reproduce." Happily, where real genius is concerned, some of its qualities will always per- meate even much ruder attempts at translation than those which have lately presented Moliere to English eyes ; but a great deal, and in the case of sparkling, graceful comedy or sharp and brilliant satire, -that part the most characteristic, is sure to be lost, and those who have enjoyed the original know the loss to be great. But supposing that many persons must forego the greater benefit, we can scarcely -over-estimate their obligations to those who can put before them in so small a space the result of careful study, not only of the works, but of the life of the great French dramatist. If they would become acquainted with his life, from his escape, on attain- ing his majority, alike from his law-studies and the bourgeois name of Poquelin, to that still happier escape from the life then entered on, when he died in the arms of the good nuns who had never ceased to believe in their friend's piety,—here it is all told, and told so as to introduce the reader in some magical way into that most extraordinary world of Paris under the "Grand Monarque," himself, the centre to which all eyes, not least those of Moliere, were directed, and himself so embodying the greatness of appearance and manner with littleness of purpose and achievement which characterised it. This, of course, applies to the Court circle, not to that wider world which was then graced, as we are told on p. 41, by the wisdom of Bossnet, Pascal, La Fontaine, and Racine. The summaries of the plays and the manner of grouping them cannot fail, we think, to give to a reader, previously unacquainted with the subject, a very true, and as far as possible, a lively idea of them ; and the scarceness of the actual pieces of translation adds to their value. We cannot share the editor's extreme objection to the "Critique de l'Ecole des Fem- mes," which contains some fine passages, and seems to us throughout to be so well sustained as to be interesting even now, when its author no longer needs even his own weapons of defence. The "Impromptu de Versailles" we agree in thinking "disagreeable." We also feel how 'very just are the remarks on p. 73 as to the degradation imposed on an intelligence like Moliere's by his slavish adulation of the King. Of course, it is even more difficult for us now to judge of the effect of the atmosphere of the time, than it is of that in which the literary men of Queen Elizabeth's day performed similar slavish wonders. In Moliere's case, too, the doctrine, now so much insisted on, of hereditary tendency comes in as an excuse, and we feel that the descendant of many " Tapissiers du Roi," and himself holding the office, which included making the King's bed, as well as decorating it, may have been less able than another to shake himself free. The King appears to have been his faithful friend, even when obliged to suppress Tartuffe " for a time, and we will venture to hope that the apprecia- tion shown was rather to the " comEdien" than to the " tapissier,"—

to the man beyond his age, rather than to the one who flattered like others in it. The remarks on the almost tragic element in the later plays, putting them in fine contrast with the interludes of dancing and absurdity with which they are interspersed, must interest thoughtful readers ; and we feel sure the fellow-workers in this little volume will feel well rewarded if it should prove, as we hope it may, an incentive to a wider study of their subject.