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Publication Number 76

William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
University of California
Los Angeles

Richard C. Boys, _University of Michigan_
Ralph Cohen, _University of California, Los Angeles_
Vinton A. Dearing, _University of California, Los Angeles_
Lawrence Clark Powell, _Clark Memorial Library_

W. Earl Britton, _University of Michigan_

Emmett L. Avery, _State College of Washington_
Benjamin Boyce, _Duke University_
Louis Bredvold, _University of Michigan_
John Butt, _King's College, University of Durham_
James L. Clifford, _Columbia University_
Arthur Friedman, _University of Chicago_
Louis A. Landa, _Princeton University_
Samuel H. Monk, _University of Minnesota_
Ernest C. Mossner, _University of Texas_
James Sutherland, _University College, London_
H. T. Swedenberg, Jr., _University of California, Los Angeles_

Edna C. Davis, _Clark Memorial Library_


André Dacier's _Poëtique d'Aristote Traduite en François avec des
Remarques_ was published in Paris in 1692. His translation of Horace
with critical remarks (1681-1689) had helped to establish his reputation
in both France and England. Dryden, for example, borrowed from it
extensively in his _Discourse Concerning the Original and Progress of
Satire_ (1693). No doubt this earlier work assured a ready reception and
a quick response to the commentary on Aristotle: how ready and how quick
is indicated by the fact that within a year of its publication in France
Congreve could count on an audience's recognizing a reference to it. In
the _Double Dealer_ (II, ii) Brisk says to Lady Froth: "I presume your
ladyship has read _Bossu_?" The reply comes with the readiness of a
_cliché_: "O yes, and _Rapine_ and _Dacier_ upon _Aristotle_ and
_Horace_." A quarter of a century later Dacier's reputation was still
great enough to allow Charles Gildon to eke out the second part of his
_Complete Art of Poetry_ (1718) by translating long excerpts from the
Preface to the "admirable" Dacier's Aristotle.[1] Addison ridiculed the
pedantry of Sir Timothy Tittle (a strict Aristotelian critic) who
rebuked his mistress for laughing at a play: "But Madam," says he, "you
ought not to have laughed; and I defie any one to show me a single rule
that you could laugh by.... There are such people in the world as
_Rapin_, _Dacier_, and several others, that ought to have spoiled your
mirth."[2] But the scorn is directed at the pupil, not the master, whom
Addison considered a "true critic."[3] A work so much esteemed was
certain to be translated, and so in 1705 an English version by an
anonymous translator was published.

It cannot be claimed that Dacier's Aristotle introduced any new critical
theories into England. Actually it provides material for little more
than an extended footnote on the history of criticism in the Augustan
period. Dacier survived as an influence only so long as did a respect
for the rules; and he is remembered today merely as one of the
historically important interpreters--or misinterpreters--of the
_Poetics_.[4] He was, however, the last Aristotelian formalist to affect
English critical theory, for the course of such speculation in the next
century was largely determined by other influences. None the less, his
preface and his commentary are worth knowing because they express
certain typically neo-classical ideas about poetry, especially dramatic
poetry, which were acceptable to many men in England and France at the
end of the seventeenth century. Dacier's immediate and rather special
influence on English criticism may be observed in Thomas Rymer's
proposal to introduce the chorus into English tragedy and in the
admiration which the moralistic critics at the turn of the century felt
for his theories.

In the very year of its publication Rymer read with obvious approbation
Dacier's _Poëtique d'Aristote_. In the preface to _A Short View of
Tragedy_ (1692) he announced that "we begin to understand the Epick Poem
by means of _Bossu_; and Tragedy by Monsieur _Dacier_."[5] That Rymer
admired Dacier's strict formalism is plain, but he was especially moved
by the French critic's argument that the chorus is _the_ essential part
of true tragedy, since it is necessary both for _vraisemblance_ and for
moral instruction.[6] He therefore boldly proposed that English tragic
poets should henceforth use the chorus in the manner of the ancients,
since it is "the root and original, and ... certainly always the most
necessary part of Tragedy."[7] Moreover he praised (as had Dacier) the
example of Racine, who had introduced the chorus into the plays that he
had written for private performance, by the young ladies of St.
Cyr--_Esther_ (1689) and _Athalie_ (1691). As is well known, he even
went so far as to write the synopsis of what inevitably would have been
an absurd Aeschylean tragedy on the defeat of the Armada.[8]

Rymer's proposal provoked a public debate, which was begun by John
Dennis, at that time an almost unknown young critic. Though _The
Impartial Critick_ (1693) was directed against Rymer (who had given
grave offence to Dryden and others by his attack on Shakespeare in the
_Short View_), Dennis knew Dacier's ideas intimately, and his discussion
of the chorus in the first and the fourth dialogues, is more directly a
refutation of the French than of the English critic.[9] This lively
treatise established whatever intimacy existed between young Dennis and
the aging Dryden.[10]

Though Dryden avoided any extended public argument with Rymer, he
obviously knew both the _Short View_ and Dacier's Aristotle. In the
_Parallel of Poetry and Painting_ (1695), he followed Rymer's lead in
equating Dacier, the critic of tragedy ("in his late excellent
Translation of Aristotle and his notes upon him"[11]) with Le Bossu, the
framer of "exact rules for the Epic Poem...." But he disagreed with
Dacier's opinions on the chorus and explained away Racine's use of it on
the sensible grounds that _Esther_ had not been written for public, but
for private performances which gave occasion to the young ladies of St.
Cyr "of entertaining the king with vocal music, and of commending their
voices."[12] He also suggested the practical consideration that plays
with choruses would bankrupt any company of actors because it would be
necessary to provide a number of costumes for the additional players and
to enlarge the stage (and consequently the theater) to make room for the
choral dances.

Dacier's insistence that the primary function of poetry is to instruct
and that pleasure is merely an aid to that end could easily be distorted
into a crudely moralistic view of the art. Doubtless it was this that
recommended the treatise to minor critics and poets who were creating
the atmosphere out of which came Jeremy Collier's attack on contemporary
dramatists in 1698.

Blackmore's preface to _Prince Arthur_ (1695) is a long plea for the
reformation of poetry, whose "true and genuine End is, by universal
Confession, the Instruction of our Minds and Regulation of our
Manners...." One is not surprised, when toward the end he names his
authorities, that they turn out to be Rapin, Le Bossu, Dacier (as
commentators on Aristotle and Horace) and "our own _excellent Critick,
Mr. Rymer_."[13] W.J. who translated Le Bossu in 1695, dedicated his
work to Blackmore. In his preface he linked Blackmore and Dacier as
proponents of the thesis that poetry's "true Use and End is to instruct
and profit the world more than to delight and please it."[14] And Jeremy
Collier himself quoted Dacier from time to time, and on one occasion
invoked his commentary on Horace, "_The Theater condemned as
inconsistent with Prudence and Religion_," as one of many answers to the
unrepentant Congreve.[15]

But besides starting these minor controversies Dacier's preface states
some of the typical themes of neo-Aristotelian criticism: the idea that
proper tragedy is based on a fable that imitates an "Allegorical and
Universal Action" intended "to Form the Manners," a view that closely
relates tragic fable to epic fable as interpreted by Le Bossu;[16] that
modern tragedy, being concerned with individuals and their intrigues,
cannot be universal and is therefore necessarily defective; that love is
an improper subject for tragedy; that the Aristotelian _katharsis_
proposes as its end not the expulsion of passions from the soul, but the
moderation of excessive passions and the inuring of the audience to the
inevitable calamities of life, and so on. Finally, he is nowhere more
typical of French critics in his time than in his vigorous defense of
the rules, which he declares are valid because of the nature of poetry
which, being an art, must have an end, and there must necessarily be
some way to arrive at it; because of the authority of Aristotle, whose
knowledge of our passions equipped him to give rules for poetry; because
of the illustrious works from which Aristotle deduced his rules; because
of the quality of the poetry that they produce when followed; because,
since they are drawn from "the common Sentiment of Mankind," they must
be reasonable; because nothing can please that is not conformable to the
rules, "for good Sense and right Reason, is of all Countries and
places;" and finally "because they are the Laws of Nature who always
acts uniformly, reviews them incessantly, and gives them a perpetual
Existence." It is his simultaneous appeal to the authority of the
ancients, to the _consensus gentium_, to general nature, and to good
sense that makes Dacier seem to us to represent the final phase of
French neo-classical critical theory.

Samuel Holt Monk
University of Minnesota

Notes to the Introduction

[1] Willard H.

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