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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Sincere Critic Seldom Pleases
By Molière (1622–1673)
 
        
From ‘The Misanthrope’: Translation of Charles Heron Wall
  
  [The scene is the house of Célimène (the heroine of the play) in Paris. In the apartment are Alceste, known for his too-plain speech as “the misanthrope”; and the far more politic and compliant Philinte. Oronte enters to them, eager for literary flattery from Alceste. The scene is from the first act of the play.]

ORONTE  [to Alceste]—I learnt just now that Eliante and Célimène are gone out to make some purchases: but as I was also told that you were here, I came up to say, in all sincerity of heart, that I have conceived for you an incredible esteem; and that for a long time this esteem has given me an ardent desire to be numbered among your friends. Yes, I love to render justice to true merit, and I long to be united to you in the close bond of friendship. I think that a warm friend, and one of my standing, is assuredly not to be despised.  [During this discourse of Oronte, Alceste is thoughtful, and does not seem aware that he is spoken to, until Oronte says to him:]  With your leave, it is to you that I am speaking.  1
  Alceste—To me, sir?  2
  Oronte—To you. Does it in any way wound your feelings?  3
  Alceste—Not in the least; but my surprise is great. I did not expect this homage to be paid to me.  4
  Oronte—The esteem I feel for you ought not to surprise you, and you can claim it from the whole world.  5
  Alceste—Sir—  6
  Oronte—The whole kingdom contains no merit more dazzling than that which is to be found in you.  7
  Alceste—Sir—  8
  Oronte—Yes. I consider you superior to the highest amongst us.  9
  Alceste—Sir—  10
  Oronte—May Heaven strike me dead if I lie! And in order to convince you of my feelings, allow me in this place to embrace you with all my heart, and to solicit a place in your affections. Come, your hand if you please. Will you promise me your friendship?  11
  Alceste—Sir—  12
  Oronte—What! you refuse me?  13
  Alceste—Sir, it is too great an honor you wish to pay me; but friendship requires a little more caution, and we surely profane its name when we lightly make use of it. Such a compact ought to spring from judgment and choice, and before we bind ourselves we ought to be better acquainted. Our dispositions might differ so greatly as to make us both heartily repent of the bargain.  14
  Oronte—Upon my word, you speak like a sensible man, and I esteem you all the more for it. Let us then leave the forming of such pleasant ties to time; but meanwhile believe that I am entirely at your service. If some overture is to be made for you at court, every one knows that I am in favor with the King, that I have his private ear, and that really he behaves in all things most kindly to me. In short, believe that I am in everything and at all times at your disposal. As you are a man of great judgment, I come, by way of beginning this happy bond of friendship, to read you a sonnet which I have lately composed, and to ask you if I should do well to publish it.  15
  Alceste—Sir, I am ill qualified to decide on such a matter; pray excuse me.  16
  Oronte—Why?  17
  Alceste—I have the weakness of being a little too sincere about those things.  18
  Oronte—Sincerity is what I ask of you; and I should have reason to complain, if when I come to you in order to hear the plain truth, you frustrate my purpose by concealing anything from me.  19
  Alceste—If it is thus you look upon it, sir, I consent.  20
  OronteSonnet. It is a sonnet—on Hope. It is to a lady who had given some encouragement to my love. Hope. These are not those long, pompous verses; but soft, tender, languishing little lines.  [At every one of these interruptions he looks at Alceste.]  21
  Alceste—We shall see.  22
  OronteHope. I do not know whether the style will seem clear and easy to you, and whether you will be satisfied with my choice of words.  23
  Alceste—We shall see, sir.  24
  Oronte—Besides, you must know that I was only a quarter of an hour composing it.  25
  Alceste—Come, sir, time has nothing to do with the matter.  26
  Oronte  [reads]—
  Hope, it is true, can ease our pain
  And rock awhile our hapless mind;
But, Phyllis, what a sorry gain
  When nothing pleasant walks behind.
  27
  Philinte—I think this beginning charming!  28
  Alceste  [aside to Philinte]—What! you dare to find that charming?  29
  Oronte
  Your complaisance was great indeed,
  But better ’twere to clip its scope,
And not to such expense proceed,
  If you could give me—only hope.
  30
  Philinte—Ah! in what charming terms those things are said!  31
  Alceste  [aside to Philinte]—Shame on you, you vile flatterer! you praise that rubbish!  32
  Oronte
  If age—long expectation’s pest—
The ardor of my zeal must test,
  To death at last I’ll fly.
My purpose braves your every care;
Fair Phyllis, men will soon despair
  When doomed to hope for aye.
  33
  Philinte—The fall is pretty, lovable, admirable.  34
  Alceste  [aside to Philinte]—Plague take your fall, wretched sycophant! Deuce take you! I wish it had broken your neck.  35
  Philinte—I have never heard verses so skillfully turned.  36
  Alceste  [aside]—Zounds!  37
  Oronte  [to Philinte]—You are flattering me, and you think perhaps—  38
  Philinte—No indeed, I am not flattering you at all.  39
  Alceste  [aside]—Ha! what else are you doing, impostor?  40
  Oronte  [to Alceste]—But you, you remember the agreement we made, and I beg of you to speak to me in all sincerity.  41
  Alceste—Sir, this is at all times a delicate matter, and we always like people to praise us for our genius. But one day I was saying to some one, whose name I will not mention, on seeing verses of his composition, that a gentleman should carefully guard against the hankering after authorship which is apt to seize us; that he should check the great propensity we have of making a display of such pastimes; and that by too great an eagerness to show our productions we run the risk of making ourselves ridiculous.  42
  Oronte—Do you mean me to understand by this that I am wrong in wishing—  43
  Alceste—I do not say that. But I said to him that a lifeless composition is very wearisome to those who read it; that such a weakness is sufficient to make a man the object of unkind remarks; that although in other respects he may have the most sterling qualities, we generally judge of men by their weakest side.  44
  Oronte—Do you find fault with my sonnet?  45
  Alceste—I do not say that. But to keep him from writing, I pointed out to him how in our days that thirst had spoilt many a worthy man.  46
  Oronte—Do I write badly, and do I resemble in any way—  47
  Alceste—I do not say that. But in short, I said to him, What pressing necessity is there for you to rhyme, and what the deuce urges you to put your name in print? If we can forgive the publication of a wretched book, it is only to those unfortunate men who scribble for a living. Believe me; resist the temptation, keep such effusions from public notice, and do not throw away, however you may be tempted, the name of a man of sense and a gentleman which you bear at court, to take from the hands of a grasping printer, that of a ridiculous and wretched author. This is what I tried to make him understand.  48
  Oronte—And I think I understand you. But this is all very well. May I know what in my sonnet can—  49
  Alceste—Truly, you had better shut it up in your cabinet: you have followed bad models, and your expressions are in no way natural. Pray what is—“And rock awhile our hapless mind”? and “Nothing pleasant walks behind”? also “And not to such expense proceed, If you could give me only hope”? or “Fair Phyllis, men will soon despair, When doomed to hope for aye”? This figurative style that people are so vain of, falls far short of good taste and truth. It is a paltry play on words, and mere affectation. Nature never speaks thus. I hate the wretched taste of the age in these matters. Our forefathers, unpolished as they were, understood these things better; and I value less all that is now admired than an old song which I will repeat to you:—
  “If the King had given me
  Paris town, so great and gay,
And for it I had to flee
  From my lady-love away,
To King Henry I should say,
Take your Paris back, I pray:
I had liefer love my love, O,
  I had liefer love my love.”
The versification is not rich, and the style is old. But do you not see how much better it is than all that trumpery which good sense must abhor, and that here simple nature speaks?—
  “If the King had given me
  Paris town, so great and gay,
And for it I had to flee
  From my lady-love away,
To King Henry I should say,
Take your Paris back, I pray:
I had liefer love my love, O,
  I had liefer love my love.”
This is what a heart truly in love would say.—[To Philinte, who laughs.]  Yes, you may laugh as much as you please; but whatever you men of wit may say, I prefer this to the showy glitter of those false trinkets which every one admires.
  50
  Oronte—And yet I maintain that my verses are good.  51
  Alceste—You have your own reasons for thinking them so; but you will allow me to be of a different opinion, and my reasons to be independent of yours.  52
  Oronte—I think it sufficient that others prize them.  53
  Alceste—No doubt they have the gift of dissimulation, which I have not.  54
  Oronte—Do you really think that you have such a large share of intelligence?  55
  Alceste—If I praised your verses, I should have more.  56
  Oronte—I can easily do without your approbation.  57
  Alceste—You must certainly, if you please, do without it.  58
  Oronte—I should like to see how you would set about composing some on the same subject.  59
  Alceste—I might have the misfortune of making some as bad as yours, but I should take great care not to show them to any one.  60
  Oronte—You speak to me very haughtily, and this conceit—  61
  Alceste—Pray find others to flatter you, and do not ask me to do so.  62
  Oronte—But, my little sir, lower somewhat your lofty tone, if you please.  63
  Alceste—I shall certainly, my big sir, do as I choose.  64
  Philinte  [stepping between them]—Nay, gentlemen, this is carrying the matter too far. I beg of you to cease.  65
  Oronte—Ah! I am wrong, I acknowledge it, and I leave the field to you. I am, sir, in all sincerity, your humble servant.  66
  Alceste—And I, sir, your most obedient.  67
[Oronte goes out.]
  Philinte—There! you see that with your love of sincerity, you have drawn a troublesome affair upon yourself. It was clear to me that Oronte, in order to be flattered—
  68
  Alceste—Do not speak to me.  69
  Philinte—But—  70
  Alceste—No more society for me.  71
  Philinte—It is too much—  72
  Alceste—Leave me alone.  73
  Philinte—If I—  74
  Alceste—Not another word.  75
  Philinte—But how—  76
  Alceste—I will hear no more.  77
  Philinte—But yet—  78
  Alceste—Again? what, again?  79
  Philinte—You insult—  80
  Alceste—’Sdeath! this is too much. Do not follow me.  81
  Philinte—You are joking; I shall not leave you.  [Exeunt.]  82
 
 
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