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Unacknowledged LegislatorsThe Poet as Lawgiver in Post-Revolutionary France$
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Roger Pearson

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198754473

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198754473.001.0001

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Towards a Happy Revolution

Towards a Happy Revolution

(p.55) 3 Towards a Happy Revolution
Unacknowledged Legislators

Roger Pearson

Oxford University Press

This chapter begins with the view commonly held in mid-eighteenth-century France that poetry in verse had become outmoded. By contrast, the idea of the prose-writer as lawgiver was rapidly gaining ground, especially in the theatre. Despite Rousseau’s opposition Diderot’s advocacy of so-called bourgeois drama as an instrument of public education was increasingly supported, most famously by Beaumarchais and most energetically by Louis-Sébastien Mercier. Not only did Mercier take up Diderot’s idea that dramatists might work in tandem with the courts to promote reform and observance of the law, he argued that all writers could become the new ‘magistrates’ and work towards a ‘happy Revolution’. Following renewed interest in the poet-lawgivers of ancient Greece (Condillac, Rousseau, Marmontel) and a growing taste for the ‘primitive’ (Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Parny), poetry in verse began to regain respect and popularity, especially in the new genre of ‘poésie descriptive’ (Saint-Lambert, Delille, Roucher).

Keywords:   Verse poetry, Rousseau, Diderot, Beaumarchais, Louis-Sébastien Mercier, prose, drame bourgeois, ‘poésie descriptive’, Saint-Lambert, Delille

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