Reference > Cambridge History > From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift > Writers of Burlesque and Translators > Their love of Burlesque and Indebtedness to Scarron
  The Underworld of Letters and its Vagabond Inhabitants His Imitators in France and in England  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

X. Writers of Burlesque and Translators.

§ 2. Their love of Burlesque and Indebtedness to Scarron.


In burlesque, Scarron was their openly acknowledged master. They did not make any attempt to belittle the debt which they owed to Le Virgile Travesti. They announced their obligation not merely in their style, but in their titles, and, if this antic form of poetry took some years in crossing the Channel, it flourished with amazing energy after its passage. The success of Scarron himself is a curiosity of literary history. The form was no new thing, when Scarron made it his own. The reverse process, the exaltation of paltry subjects by august treatment, such as was afterwards employed by John Philips  1  in his Splendid Shilling, was not unknown to the ancients. The trick of putting the gods and heroes of Greece and Rome into dressing-gowns had been practised in Spain and Italy before Scarron published, in 1648, the first book of his famous Virgile. But, for France, and, so, for England, Scarron was a real inventor. The artifice seemed simple enough when it was discovered. It depended for its triumph upon nothing else than an obvious contrast. To represent whatever had seemed sacred to the tradition of the race as trivial and ludicrous was not a difficult enterprise, while the anachronism which persuaded Vergil to speak of oil-paintings and to quote Corneille was assured of a laugh. The example of Scarron was quickly followed. Furetière, Dufresnoy, d’Assoucy hastened to prove themselves possessed of this new humour. Ovid—curled and barbered, was sent to pay his addresses to the ladies of the court with M. de Boufflers. Not even Lucan or Juvenal escaped the outrage of parody. And the style of the burlesques matched the irreverence of their thought. It was familiar to baseness; it flowed with the ease and swiftness of a turbid stream. In brief, as Boileau said, Parnassus spoke the language of the market, and Apollo, travestied, became a Tabarin.   3

Note 1. As to John Philips, cf. ante, p. 204. [ back ]

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  The Underworld of Letters and its Vagabond Inhabitants His Imitators in France and in England  
 
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