Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux

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Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux
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BirthplaceParis, France
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Boileau-Despréaux, Nicolas

 

Born Nov. 1, 1636, in Paris; died there Mar. 13, 1711. French poet, critic, and theoretician of classicism. Son of a bourgeois functionary.

Boileau studied theology and later law at the Sorbonne. During 1660-66 he wrote nine Satires on worldly, moral, and literary themes, in which he maliciously ridiculed precious literature and burlesque. The dialogue Heroes of Romances is devoted to the critique of precious literature (1665, published 1701). His Discourse on the Ode (1693) and Critical Reflections on Several Passages in the Rhetorician Longinus (1694) are associated with the so-called debate between the ancients and moderns. Boileau defended the superiority of the ancients over contemporary writers.

The basic aesthetic principles of French classicism were formulated by Boileau in the poem The Art of Poetry (1674). Boileau’s aesthetics were pervaded by rationalism: the beautiful for him was identical with the rational. Having made the principle of the “imitation of nature” the basis of his poetics, Boileau limited it to the expression of an abstract generality and typicality that excluded everything individual and changeable. According to Boileau this kind of “imitation of nature” was the essence of ancient art, which he regarded as the absolute aesthetic norm (Aristotle and especially Horace). Boileau established firm rules of “good taste” and regarded popular poetry as “vulgar” and “barbarous, ” “marketplace” art. Boileau put forward the requirement of the observation in drama of the three unities: of place, time, and action. He devoted much attention to problems of artistic form as manifestations of the writer’s reason. The normative character of Boileau’s aesthetics was reflected in his theory of genres. Boileau’s aesthetics did not permit the slightest mixing of the sublime and the low, of the tragic and the comic, and of the heroic and the humorous.

Boileau’s poetics influenced the aesthetic thought and literature of the 17th and 18th centuries in many European countries. In Russia, Boileau’s aesthetic theories were followed by A. D. Kantemir, A. P. Sumarokov, and especially by V. K. Trediakovskii, who in 1752 translated The Art of Poetry into Russian.

WORKS

Oeuvres complètes, vols. 1-4. Paris, 1870-73.
In Russian translation:
Peoticheskoe iskusstvo. Foreword by N. A. Sigal. Moscow, 1957.

REFERENCES

Istoriia frantsuzskoi literatury, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946. Pages 523-38.
Anikst, A. Teoriia dramy ot Aristotelia do Lessinga. Moscow, 1967. Pages 255-62.
Bray, R. Boileau, l’homme et l’oeuvre. Paris [1942].
Brody, J. Boileau and Longinus. Geneva, 1958.
Magné, E. Bibliographe générale des oeuvres de N. Boileau. Paris, 1929.

V. IA. BAKHMUTSKII

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The attacks centered on Italian literature's general "bad taste" and its absence of the leading classical ideals of truth, wit and pure imitation of nature as set forth by Nicolas Boileau-Despreaux (1636-1711) and his 1674 L'Art poetique; Rene Rapin (1621-1687) and his 1674 Reflexions sur la poetique; and Dominique Bouhours (1628-1702) and his 1671 Entretiens d'Ariste et d'Eugene and his 1687 La Maniere de bien penser dans les ouvrages d'esprit.
Nicolas Boileau-Despreaux was perhaps the most notable critic of the period.