Studies in Self-Interest: From Descartes to La Bruyere

By A. J. Krailsheimer | Go to book overview
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4: RETZ

THE close connexion between Corneille's drama and the real life of his day is vividly brought out in the Mémoires of Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz.1 This remarkable man combined a high degree of literary felicity with an unrivalled experience of political intrigue, but foremost among his qualities is lucidity. The events of the Fronde, in which he played a leading part, and which make up the bulk of his Mémoires, are presented in much the same spirit as one of Corneille's plays, and indeed on at least two occasions Retz actually quotes Corneille ( Horace on p. 310, le Cid on p. 745) at an interlocutor. The Mémoires are addressed to a lady, whose identity remains conjectural, but who is generally thought to have been Mme de Sévigné, a more than usually fervent admirer of Corneille. On numerous occasions some new development is presented in theatrical terms, variously revealing Retz as heroic actor and producer. Retz, like Descartes and Corneille, had been a pupil of the Jesuits, in his case at the Collège de Clermont, and this 'âme peut-être la moins ecclésiastique qui fût dans l'univers' (3), as he describes himself, proved himself none the less a competent theologian when the profession he had been unable to escape demanded public display of his talents. Retz was in every way a man of parts. His Mémoires treat with equal lucidity and skill the exploits in which he was involved, be they amorous, martial, political or even religious, and show from the inside the workings of one of those aristocratic spirits which Corneille had perforce observed from without. Though each man was fully acquainted with the person and work of the other, there is no more need than in the case of Corneille and Descartes to postulate direct influence; once again it is the spirit of the age manifesting itself in different ways according to the context. The behaviour of Retz and his fellow Frondeurs, together with his retrospective analysis, may be seen as a practical experi

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1
All references are to pages in the 1956 edition of Cardinal de Retz, Mémoires, in Bibl. de la Péiade

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