A New and Complete Translation

Essay 51

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 [†]23 October 1767[51.1]

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 On the thirty-ninth evening (Wednesday, the 8th of July) The Married Philosopher and The New Agnes were presented again.[*][51.2]

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Chevrier says[††] that Destouches drew his play from a comedy by Campistron, and that if the latter had not written his Jaloux Désabusé, we probably would not have a Married Philosopher.[51.3] Campistron’s comedy is fairly obscure; I do not know if it has ever been performed at any German theater, and there is no translation of it available. We are thus all the more justified in wanting to know what lies behind Chevrier’s claim.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 This, in brief, is the plot of Campistron’s play: a brother has control of the considerable assets of his sister, and in order not to lose them, he would rather she not marry at all. But the brother’s wife has better ideas, or at least different ones, and in order to prevail upon him to take care of his sister, she tries to make him jealous in every possible manner, by enthusiastically receiving various young men into her home who come under the pretext of courting her sister-in-law. The ruse succeeds, the husband becomes jealous, and finally, in order to eliminate his wife’s excuse for having suitors around, he agrees to his sister’s marriage to Clitandre, one of his wife’s relatives, whom she had charmed by playing the coquette. The husband recognizes that he has been duped, but he accepts it with equanimity when he realizes that his jealousy was unfounded.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 What does this plot have in common with the plot of The Married Philosopher? As far as the plot is concerned, nothing at all. But here is a passage from the second act of Campistron’s play between the jealous husband, Dorante, and his secretary, Dubois. This will demonstrate what Chevrier meant.[51.4]

DUBOIS: What is the matter with you?

DORANTE: I am morose, vexed; all of my previous serenity is gone, my joy is at an end. Heaven has sent me a tyrant, an executioner, who will not cease torturing and punishing me –

DUBOIS: And who is this tyrant, this executioner?

DORANTE: My wife.

DUBOIS: Your wife, sir?

DORANTE: Yes, my wife, my wife. – She is driving me to despair.

DUBOIS: You hate her then?

DORANTE: Would God I did! Then I would be at peace. – But I love her, and love her so much – Damned misery!

DUBOIS: You’re not jealous, are you?


DUBOIS: What? You, sir? You, jealous? You, who, when it came to jealousy, always –

DORANTE: Laughed and mocked. That makes it all the worse for me now. What a fool I’ve been to let myself be dragged along with the wretched ways of the beau monde! To agree with the braying fools who laugh at the propriety and discipline of our matrimonial ancestors! And I didn’t simply agree; it wasn’t long before I set the tone. There’s not a bit nonsense I failed to spout in order to demonstrate wit and savoir vivre! Marital fidelity, constant love, phooey, how much that reeks of the petit bourgeois. The husband who does not let his wife have her way is a bear! If he holds it against her when she flirts with other men, he belongs in a madhouse. This is how I spoke, and I’m the one who should have been sent to the madhouse for saying such things.–

DUBOIS: But why did you speak so?

DORANTE: Aren’t you paying attention? Because I was an idiot, I believed it sounded gallant and wise. – In the meantime, my family wanted to see me married. They suggested a young, innocent girl, and I took her. Things would go well with her, I thought, she would not change my way of thinking very much. I don’t love her particularly now, and possessing her ought to make me even more indifferent. But how greatly I deceived myself! She became more beautiful and more charming each day. I saw it and became inflamed, ever more inflamed, and now I am so in love, so in love with her –

DUBOIS: Well, that’s what I call being captured!

DORANTE: Now I am so jealous, that I am ashamed to admit it even to you. – All of my friends are repugnant to me, and I’m suspicious of them; those whom I could not have around enough before, I’d now rather see going than coming. What do they seek in my house, anyway? What do these malingerers want? What is behind all the flattery towards my wife? One praises her understanding, the other extols to heaven her pleasing nature. Her heavenly eyes enchant this man, her lovely teeth, this other. They all find her extremely charming, extremely admirable, and they always end their damned gibberish by observing what a fortunate, enviable husband I am.

DUBOIS: Yes, yes, it is true, that’s how it goes.

DORANTE: Oh, they go even further with their shameless audacity! She is barely out of bed, and they are at her toilette. That’s something you ought to see and hear! Each competes with the other in demonstrating his attentiveness and wit. One vulgar notion, nasty bit of mockery, or titillating anecdote follows another, and all of it with gestures, looks, and flirtations that my wife accepts so genially and answers so obligingly – that I am fit to be tied! Can you imagine, Dubois? I am forced to watch as they kiss her hand.

DUBOIS: That is harsh!

DORANTE: And at the same time I dare not utter a word. For what would the beau monde say? How ridiculous would I make myself if I were to vent my displeasure? Children on the street would point their fingers at me. Every day there’d be a new epigram or popular tune about me etc.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 This must be the scenario that Chevrier found similar to The Married Philosopher. Just as Campistron’s jealous husband is ashamed to admit his jealousy because he previously made fun of this weakness, Destouches’s philosopher is ashamed to make his marriage public because he had earlier mocked all serious love and had declared the bachelor state as the only respectable way for a free and wise man to live. This shame they have in common cannot fail to bring them both into similar awkward situations. So, for example, Campistron’s Dorante finds himself in a dilemma when he asks his wife to get rid of the tiresome visitors and she indicates to him that this is a matter he must take care of himself; this is almost the same as the dilemma faced by Destouches’s Arist when he must tell the Marquis that he cannot pin his hopes on Melite.[51.5] Similarly, when the jealous Dorante hears his friends mocking jealousy in his presence and he must agree, he suffers in more or less the same way as the philosopher Arist, who feels compelled to say that he is unquestionably far too clever and careful to let himself be misled into such folly as marriage.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Nevertheless I do not see why Destouches needed to have the earlier play at hand, and it is fully conceivable to me that we could have Destouches’ play even if Campistron’s were not around. Wildly differing characters can get into similar situations; in a comedy, because the characters are the main business and the situations exist merely to get them going and allow them to express themselves, we must look not to the situations but to the characters if we want to determine whether a play deserves to be called an original or a copy. It is the other way around with tragedy, where the characters are less essential, and where the situations are the primary source of terror and compassion. Therefore similar situations produce similar tragedies, but not similar comedies. In contrast, similar characters produce similar comedies, whereas in tragedies they hardly come into consideration.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 The playwright’s son, who provided the splendid edition of his father’s Oeuvres that appeared a few years ago in four quarto volumes, published by the royal press in Paris, tells an anecdote in the prologue to this edition that particularly pertains to this play.[51.6] Namely, the playwright had married in England, and for certain reasons had to keep his marriage a secret. One person from his wife’s family blurted out the secret earlier than he cared for, and this gave the occasion for The Married Philosopher. If this is true – and why should we not believe this from his son? – then the presumed imitation of Campistron is all the more dismissible.

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 [*] See the fifth and seventh evenings.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 [††] L’Observateur des Spectacles Vol. II, p. 135.

  • 31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0
  • [†] Text in blue indicates passages ommitted by Zimmern in her 1890 translation.
  • [51.1] Actually published 5 January 1768.
  • [51.2] The Married Philosopher, see [12]; The New Agnes, see [10].
  • [51.3] Lessing refers to L’Observateur des Spectacles [The Theatrical Observer] (1762) by French playwright and critic François Antoine de Chevrier (1721–62). Le Jaloux Désabusé [The Disillusioned Jealous One] (1709): five-act comedy in verse by French playwright Jean-Galbert de Campistron (1656–1723).
  • [51.4] From Act 2, Sc. 2 of Le Jaloux Désabusé (see Campistron 145–7). Compare to Act 1, Sc. 2 of Destouches’s play (see The Married Philosopher, 3–6). Tr. note: we have translated Lessing’s rendition of the text, which is a very free adaptation of the French rhymed couplets into German prose.
  • [51.5] Arist (Ariste), Melite (Mélite), the Marquis: the married philosopher, his wife, and her would-be suitor. (In the English translation, the characters are renamed Young Bellefleur, Melissa, and Sir Harry Sprightly, respectively.)
  • [51.6] Lessing refers here to the luxury edition of Detouches’s works, Oeuvres Dramatiques de Néricault Destouches, 4 vols. (Paris: Imprimerie royale, 1757).
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