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