8. The national character of the Discourse is evident in d’Alembert’s treatment of the Renaissance almost exclusively in terms of the history of French literature and art. His prejudice against the poets of the French Renaissance was shared by the majority of his enlightened contemporaries. It had originated in the seventeenth century and was raised to the level of dogma by the famous Art poétique of Boileau-Despréaux (1636–1711), whose work d’Alembert later called “The code of good taste in our language, as that of Horace is in Latin” ( Oeuvres, II, 355, “Éloge de Despréaux” ). Ronsard (1524–1585), the greatest of the French poets of his century, was dismissed as a pedant. Like Boileau, d’Alembert thought that French poetry had to await the coming of Malherbe (1555–1628), the court poet of Henry IV. Prose was not “perfected” until the works of Guez de Balzac (1597–1654). In the first half of the nineteenth century, French critics and poets rehabilitated many of the poets of the sixteenth century, and they have been read and enjoyed ever since, while Malherbe and Balzac are no longer in such high favor.


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