Reference > The Library > Helen Rex Keller > Reader’s Digest of Books

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
H. R. Keller.  The Reader’s Digest of Books.
Causeries du Lundi
Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve (1804–1869)
Causeries du Lundi, by Sainte-Beuve. Every prominent name in French literature, from Villehardouin and Joinville to Baudelaire and Halévy, is exhaustively discussed in the ‘Causeries’ of Sainte-Beuve, in his own day the greatest critic of the nineteenth century. The author sometimes discusses foreign literature; his articles on Dante, Goethe, Gibbon, and Franklin being excellent. What is most original in Sainte-Beuve is his point of view. Before his time, critics considered only the work of an author. Sainte-Beuve widened the scope of criticism by inventing what has been called “biographical criticism.” In the most skillful and delicate manner, he dissects the writer to find the man. He endeavors to explain the work by the character of the author, his early training, his health, his idiosyncrasies, and above all, by his environment. The ‘Causeries’ were first published as feuilletons in the papers. They may be divided into two distinct classes: those written before, and those written after, the Restoration. In the former there is more fondness for polemics than pure literary purpose; but they represent the most brilliant period in Sainte-Beuve’s literary career. After the Restoration, his method changes: there are no polemics; however little sympathy the critic may have with the works of such writers as De Maistre, Lamartine, or Béranger, he analyzes their lives solely for the purpose of finding the source of their ideas. The most curious portion of the ‘Causeries’ is that in which he discusses his contemporaries. He seems in his latter period to be desirous of refuting his earlier positions. Where he had been indulgent to excess, he is now extremely severe. Chateaubriand, Lamartine, and Béranger, who were once his idols, are relegated to a very inferior place in literature. Perhaps there is nothing more characteristic of Sainte-Beuve than the sweetness and delicacy with which he slays an obnoxious brother craftsman. In the tender regretfulness which he displays in assassinating Gautier or Hugo, he follows the direction of Izaak Walton with regard to the gentle treatment of the worm. Many lists of the most valuable of the ‘Causeries’ have been made; but as they all differ, it is safe to say that none of Sainte-Beuve’s criticisms is without a high value.  1

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