The Life and Death of an Ideal: France in the Classical Age

The Life and Death of an Ideal: France in the Classical Age

The Life and Death of an Ideal: France in the Classical Age

The Life and Death of an Ideal: France in the Classical Age

Excerpt

THE CLASSICAL AGE: "ONE FAITH, ONE LAW, ONE KING"

I. Self-Determination of Historical Periods. Living Interest of the Classical Age.

II. Other Names for the Period: Modern Times? The Ancient Régime? The Revolution is a part of the Classical Age.

III. The spiritual Unity of the Classical Age: Rationalism, Autocracy, Reverence for Antiquity.

IV. Sub-periods: (a) The Renaissance. (b) The Religious Wars. (c) The Restoration of Order ( Henry IV, Richelieu). (d) The Splendour of Louis

XIV. (e) Decadence and Transition. (f) The Regency and the Pompadour Era. (g) The Return to Nature and the Eve of the Revoulution. (h) The Revolution and the Empire.

V. Complexity and Inner Contradictions of the Classical Age: (a) Survivals of Medievalism; (b) gradual shift of emphasis from Tradition to Reason.

The Story of an Ideal and of an Effort.

I

What is the Classical Age? Periods do not follow each other in orderly succession, like Kings and Presidents. Historians may argue indefinitely about the birth, accession to power, dethronement and demise of that phantom sovereign, "the Spirit of the Age." The germs of our most modern ideas can be found in the middle ages, and the quaintest medieval notions survive in our midst. We are fairly safe, however, in applying to periods, even more than to nations, the Wilsonian doctrine of self-determination. Consciousness is the one irrefutable test of existence. For three centuries, the French lived consciously under the classical dispensation. The state of mind that it implied had a definite beginning and a definite end. There was a moment when France said with Rabelais: "At last we are out of Gothic night!"; and a moment when she said with Victor Hugo: "The Lord be . . .

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