The longer it goes on, one act, two acts, the more it will be natural and conform to the original; but the more, too, it will be cold and insipid. What grandeur is missing from Mithridates, Porus and Burrhus? In the first there are more things that one admires and ought to imitate; in the second there are more things that one sees in others or in oneself.
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The first elevates, amazes, masters, and instructs; the second pleases, stirs, touches, and penetrates. What is most beautiful, noble and imperious in reason is handled by the first; and by the second, what is most moving and delicate in passions. In the first there are maxims, rules and precepts; in the second, taste and feeling. A person is more occupied with the pieces of Corneille, and more shaken and softened by those of Racine. Corneille is more moral, Racine more natural.
It seems that the one imitates Sophocles and the other owes more to Euripides". Quelle grandeur ne se remarque point en Mithridate, en Porus et en Burrhus? Corneille est plus moral, Racine plus naturel.
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Pedants only allow it to be in oratorical speeches, and make no distinction between it and overcrowded figurative speech, the use of grand words and rounded periods. I It seems that logic is the art of convincing people of some truth, and eloquence is a gift of the soul that renders us masters of the heart and spirit of others, that makes us inspire or persuade them to anything we like. I Eloquence can be found in negotiations and in every genre of writing.
It is rarely where one looks for it, and is sometimes where one doesn't look for it at all. IV Eloquence is to sublimity what the whole is to its part.
IV What is sublimity? It seems that people haven't defined it. Is it a figure? Is it born from figures, or at least from some of them?
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Does every genre of writing have examples of sublimity, or are only great subjects capable of it? Or rather, is naturalness and tactfulness the sublimity of the works that they make perfect? What is sublimity? Where does it come from?
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IV Synonyms are different words or many different phrases that mean the same thing. Antitheses are opposite truths that spread light on each other. Metaphors or comparisons lend something foreign a sensible and natural image of truth. Hyperbole goes beyond the truth in order to make a persons spirit recognize it better. The sublime only paints the truth, but in a noble subject; it paints it completely, in its cause and effect; it is the most worthy expression or image of this truth.
People with mediocre esprit never find the right expression and they use synonyms. Young people are dazzled by the brilliance of antitheses and use them. People with a just understanding, who love to use precise images, naturally use comparisons and metaphors. Lively spirits that are full of fire and a vast imagination that carries them beyond rules and justice cannot help but gratify hyperbole. As for the sublime, even among great geniuses, only the most elevated are capable of it. IV Qu'est-ce que le sublime? Est-ce une figure?
Qu'est-ce que le sublime? It makes bad use of purety and clarity of speaking, to pair them with an arid, unfruitful subject, without interest, without use, without novelty. How does it help readers to understand easily and without trouble frivolous and puerile things, sometimes tasteless and common, and to be less uncertain of the thought of an author than annoyed with having read it?
If a person puts some profundity in his writing, if he affects a subtlety of expression and sometimes a too great refinement, it is only because of the good opinion that he has of his readers. If a man who has more erudition than discernment becomes a critic, and exercises himself on certain works, he corrupts both readers and writers. In effect, I would laugh at a man who seriously wanted to speak with the sound of my voice or have a face that resembled mine.
Am I not able to think something true after them, something that others will think again after me? When you see them up close, they are less than nothing; from far away they are imposing. I De bien des gens il n'y a que le nom qui vale quelque chose.
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I How many admirable men, who had very beautiful spirits, are dead and are not spoken of! How many are still living whom people never speak about and never will! Combien vivent encore dont on ne parle point, et dont on ne parlera jamais! Men are too occupied with themselves to have enough leisure to see into or discern others; it is for this reason that with very much merit and even more modesty a man can be ignored for a long time.
VI Il y a plus d'outils que d'ouvriers, et de ces derniers plus de mauvais que d'excellents; que pensez-vous de celui qui veut scier avec un rabot, et qui prend sa scie pour raboter? Should he be put in finances or the army? We must work toward making ourselves very worthy of some office: the rest does not concern us, it is the affair of others.
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Le mettra-t-on dans les finances, ou dans les troupes? Nearly no one has enough merit to fill this role worthily, nor enough profundity to prevent his life from seeming empty without what vulgar people call business. However, the leisure of someone who is wise only lacks a better name; someone who calls meditating, speaking, reading, and being tranquil his work. Someone who, on the contrary, has a good opinion of himself and who vulgar people call glorious, likes to present himself and does his courting with much more confidence than ability to imagine that the rulers who see him think differently about him than he thinks about himself.
A simple exterior is meant for vulgar men, it was designed for them and their needs; but it is an ornament for people who have filled their life with great actions: I would compare such people to a beautiful woman who is not known to others, but who is only more attractive for that. Certain men who are content with themselves because of some action that has succeeded fairly well for them and who have heard that modesty is well suited to great men, dare to be modest and counterfeit simpleness and naturalness: similar to people of average height who lower themselves when they walk through doorways out of fear of hurting themselves.
Xanthus , your freedman, is weak and timid: don't delay, take him out of the legions and military. Cover him with wealth, overload him with lands, titles and possessions; save your time; we live in a century where such things will do him more honor than virtue. Are you speaking seriously, Crassus? Do you think that a single drop of water drawn from the Tiber will enrich the Xanthus that you love, and prevent the embarrassing consequences that come from him being in a position that he isn't meant for?
Similar to those extraordinary stars whose presence one cannot explain, and whose fate one knows even less after they disappear, they have neither ancestors nor descendants: they are the only members of their race. This is more difficult for someone who is engaged: it seems that marriage puts everyone in his place. Send me the clothes and jewels of Philemon; I'll let you keep the person. I You are fooling yourself, Philemon, if, with your shining carriage, the great number of rogues that follow you, and the six beasts that pull you, you think that anyone has more esteem for you: they push aside the whole outfit that is beside you in order to reach you yourself, who are nothing but a conceited fool.
They expect almost nothing from time or years. In them, merit comes before age. They are born instructed, and they are complete men before the majority leave childhood behind. If they attempt to trick him for a second time, they will only lose their time; such a man is only fooled once. I would carefully avoid offending anyone, if I was a just man; but above all a man with esprit, if I have the smallest regard for my own interests.
A fool neither enters a room, nor leaves it, nor sits down, nor stands up, nor is silent, nor stays on his feet, like a man with esprit. He insinuates himself into a circle of respectable people who do not know who he is, and once there, without waiting for someone to ask him a question, without sensing that he is interrupting, he speaks, and frequently, and ridiculously. On another occasion he enters an assembly, sits down wherever he finds himself, without any attention to others or to himself; one takes him away from the place that was meant for a Minister of State, he sits down in the place meant for a duke and peer; precisely then the multitude of people laugh and he alone is serious and doesn't laugh at all.
Chase a dog from the armchair of the King, he scrambles onto the pulpit of the preacher; he regards society indifferently, without embarrassment, without bashfulness; he, no more than a fool, notices any reason for him to blush. He is a man born for comings and goings, for listening to what people say and relating it to others, for making an office of this, for exceeding the duties of his post and for being disowned, for reconciling people who quarrel at their first sight of each other; for succeeding in every thousandth undertaking, for giving himself all the glory of the success and for redirecting the hatred of the failures onto others.
He knows the common scandals, the little stories of the town; he does nothing, he tells or listens to what others do, he is a news-man ['nouvelliste']; he even knows the secrets inside families: he enters into the highest mysteries: he tells you why this person was exiled and why that person was recalled; he knows the foundation and reason of the break between two brothers, and the rupture between two Ministers of State. Didn't he predict to the former the sad consequences of their misunderstanding?