BECK index

Vincent, Descartes & Corneille

by Sanderson Beck

François de Sales and Jeanne de Chantal
Vincent de Paul and Ladies of Charity
Descartes’ New Philosophy
Descartes on Emotions
Corneille’s Comedies
Corneille’s Tragedies to 1648

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François de Sales and Jeanne de Chantal

      François de Sales was born on August 21, 1567 at the Chateau de Sales of his father’s noble family in Savoy. His mother was also from a noble family, and he was named after Francis of Assisi. At the age of 8 he went to the college of Annecy, and three years later he decided he wanted to be a priest. In 1582 his father sent him to Paris, and he entered the Jesuit College of Clermont where he studied Latin, Greek, Hebrew, philosophy, and theology. He aimed always to be gentle, and at age 18 he suffered a crisis he compared to Juan de la Cruz’s dark night of the soul. He began studying predestination in the writings of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, and he took a vow of perpetual chastity. In 1588 he returned to his parents who were living near Geneva before going to study at the University of Padua. François ascetically practiced fasting wearing a hair shirt and keeping long vigils in the night. His body suffered and became ill. He donated his body to medical science because students in Padua would dig up corpses and often fought relatives who came to protect the graves. However, François recovered and continued to pray at night if he could not do so in the day. He also practiced the rule of speaking little so as not to bore others. After two years he earned his doctorate in law. Falling from a horse twice his sword came loose and made a cross with the sheath, and he gave up the sword.
      François became a deacon on June 12, 1593, and he was appointed Provost of Geneva. He was ordained a priest on December 18. His sermons in Geneva were well received, and he preached often. The next year he was sent as a missionary to Chablais by Lake Geneva where most people were Protestants, and Catholicism had been prohibited. Duke Carlo Emanuele of Savoy had recaptured Chablais and wanted to restore the Catholic faith there. François went only with his cousin Canon Louis. His first sermon was to a few Catholics and some curious Calvinists. He spent two years writing The Controversies, but it was not published until 1892. At the end of 1595 the Duke of Savoy asked what he needed, and François asked for more money for the upkeep of preachers. Pope Clement VIII sent Father Esprit to direct François to try to convert the Reformation leader, Théodore de Beze, who explained that they made the road to heaven easier with salvation by faith alone. He said good works were not necessary but a “common decency.” François noted that Jesus advised doing good works in order not to be condemned.
      François de Sales was appointed Bishop-Coadjutor of Geneva in 1599. He went to Rome, and Pope Clement gave him an examination. The treaty of Lyon designated Gex for France, and in January 1602 Bishop Granier of Geneva sent François to learn their common law. He returned to Paris and preached at the court of Henri IV on Ash Wednesday, and he gave a sermon to the King on the Sunday after Easter at Fontainebleau. During his six months in Paris he gave more than a hundred sermons. The late Teresa of Avila appeared in a vision to Madame Acarie directing her to establish her Order in Paris, and she founded the first Carmelite monastery in France in 1604. Nuns begged François to visit their convents, and he learned that some of the Daughters of God received allowances from their families, but the others lacked necessities. He wrote them to live in strict poverty as their rule required. Bishop Granier died in September 1602 and was succeeded by François on December 8. He refused to buy a carriage or to wear silk.
      Over several years François wrote his Introduction to the Devout Life which was published in 1609 at Lyon and was reprinted more than forty times during his life. This religious book was for the laity as well as clergy and was written in French with many similes and not a word of Latin or Greek. He noted that the world wages war against us. The world sees the devout fasting, praying, suffering, helping the sick and the poor, keeping vigils, and restraining their temper and passions, but they may not perceive the inward devotion that makes all these pleasant and sweet. He suggested that one could find happiness by surrendering oneself to divine bounty. The five parts of the book are on how to transform desire into divine love, bring it to perfection, exercise the virtues, overcome distractions and temptations, and renew one’s fervor throughout life.
      In 1604 François met Jeanne-Françoise Frémio, Baronne de Chantal, who was a widow with four children and had taken a vow of chastity. They became very close friends and founded the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary on June 6, 1610 in Annecy. They followed the Rule of St. Augustine, and their general rule was “To do everything through love and nothing through compulsion; better to love obedience than to fear disobedience.”1 Jacqueline Coste showed François that spiritual perfection is possible. In August 1608 he went to Monthelon where he met intelligent Charlotte de Bréchard. Jacqueline Favre was much prettier and had been spoiled by her family, and she and Charlotte joined the convent together. In 1612 the Sisters of the Visitation began caring for the poor as a holy exercise and break from the life of prayer. The next year they bought land by the Thiou River near Annecy and constructed a monastery with a church. For the nuns François wrote his Treatise on the Love of God.
      François visited Paris again in 1618, and on November 11 Louis XIII, Queen Anne, and many people filled the Church of the Oratory so full that François had to climb through a window to reach the pulpit. Madame Angélique was assisted by Madame de Chantel, and they brought reforms to Port-Royal which became a model abbey. François de Sales died on December 28, 1622. At that time the Order of the Visitation had 13 houses. Chantal lived nineteen more years with Vincent de Paul as her spiritual director, and by 1641 the Order had 86 convents.

Vincent de Paul and Ladies of Charity

      Vincent de Paul was born either on March 28 or April 24 in 1581 on a peasant farm at Pouy in Gascony. He attended the college at Dax for two years while living in a Friars Minor monastery, and he received minor orders in their church on December 20, 1596. The next year he began studying theology at the University of Toulouse, and the Bishop of Périgueux ordained him a priest on September 23, 1600 at Chateau-l’Eveque. Vincent earned his bachelor of theology on October 12, 1604.
      The next summer Vincent de Paul was on a ship to Narbonne when Turkish corsairs attacked, killing two or three men and wounding the others including Vincent. They were taken to Tunis, and he was sold as a slave to a fisherman. He suffered so much from sea-sickness that he was sold a month or so later to a spagiric physician interested in alchemy who died in September 1606 and left Vincent to his nephew. When a French ambassador arrived from the King with permission from the Grand Turk to reclaim Christian slaves, Vincent was quickly sold to a Muslim farmer far away who had three wives. Vincent sang religious songs as he worked in the hot fields, and one of the wives was converted by him. She persuaded her husband to abandon his religion, and they took a small boat and arrived on June 28, 1607 at Aigues Moretes in the Gulf of Lyons where Vincent was a free man.
      Vincent traveled to Avignon and Rome where he waited a year for his documents. Then he went to Paris at the end of 1608 and obtained the position of counselor and assisting chaplain to Queen Marguerite of Valois. In 1610 the Archbishop of Aix, Paul Hurault de l’Hopital, ceded him the Cistercian abbey of Saint-Leonard-de-Chaume with an annual revenue of 1,200 livres, but he remained chaplain to Marguerite in Paris. On October 19, 1611 the Master of the Paris Mint gave Vincent 15,000 livres, but the next day he turned it over to the Charity Hospital. Vincent had come under the influence of Pierre de Bérulle who had been chaplain to King Henri IV and helped Vincent become pastor on May 2, 1612 at Clichy-la-Garenne where he founded a school for twelve clerics. After a year there Bérulle advised Vincent to assign an administrator at Clichy and become tutor to the sons of Philippe Emmanuel de Gondi, General of the Galleys. On October 29, 1616 Vincent resigned from the abbey of Saint-Leonard-de-Chaume. On July 29, 1617 the Archbishop of Lyon assigned two churches in Chatillon to Vincent. On August 23 he drafted a charter for eight ladies to help the poor and wrote a rule for the servants of charity before December 23 when Bérulle directed him to return to the Gondi family.
      On February 23, 1618 Vincent de Paul organized women and girls as the Charité of Villepreux, and about forty ladies were in the Confraternity of Charity when it was founded on September 9 and was financed by the Gondi Countess of Joigny from levies on sailors under the bridge on Sundays and feast days. Vincent also organized a Charité mission at Montmirail in Champagne on October 6. He had studied the works of François de Sales before he met the Bishop of Geneva at Paris in December. On February 8, 1619 King Louis XIII made Vincent the royal chaplain of the galleys which enabled him to visit the prisons. He founded the Christian Charité of Macon on September 17, 1621. Before his death François de Sales persuaded Vincent to become the spiritual director of the Order of the Visitation in Paris.
       By 1624 Vincent de Paul had earned his licentiate diploma in canon law from the University of Paris, and on March 1 he was appointed Principal of the College des Bons-Enfants. On April 15, 1625 Jean-François de Gondi, Archbishop of Paris, sanctioned the Congregation of the Mission for helping the poor, and the Gondis contributed 15,000 livres to Vincent for six priests under his direction. Madame de Gondi died on June 23, and in her will she left a large sum of money for Vincent’s charitable work. She did not want him to leave the Gondi mansion, but he did so in the autumn. Vincent cultivated friendships with great families and was able to raise much money to support his charitable work. He was a frugal manager and made sure that each mission had its own financing.
      On April 24, 1626 Vincent gave his family all his worldly goods. In May 1627 Louis XIII authorized Vincent’s Congregation of the Mission. Vincent sent François de Coudray as his emissary to negotiate with Pope Urban VIII about their Mission. Louise de Marillac had married Queen Marie’s secretary Antoine Le Gras in 1613, and her spiritual counselor was François de Sales. After her husband’s death in 1625 she vowed not to remarry. Vincent became her spiritual director, and in 1629 he sent her to inspect Montmirail before his preaching mission in May.
      Vincent’s Mission accepted the Priory of Saint-Lazare on January 7, 1632 which included farms, and it was quickly approved by the Archbishop of Paris and the King. Also in 1632 the College des Bons-Enfants began receiving 60-80 retreatants before every ordination. On January 12, 1633 Pope Urban VIII in his bull Salvatoris Nostri approved Vincent’s missions to help the poor. On July 19 Vincent began the Tuesday Conferences for priests to discuss the life of Jesus and love of the poor. They would be attended by more than 250 priests in his lifetime, and 22 of them were selected to be bishops. He warned his missionaries to avoid intemperance and selfishness. Vincent and Louise de Marillac founded the Company of the Daughters of Charity on November 29 with the first one at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The Charité of the Hotel-Dieu was organized in 1634 to establish a hospital for foundlings and to aid provinces devastated by war. That year priests were sent to Bordeaux, and Vincent founded a Charity in November at Neufchatel-en-Braye in Normandy.
      After France went to war against Spain in 1635, Vincent’s organizations provided chaplains for the army. Each year some 300 or 400 children found abandoned were taken to La Couche in Paris where almost all were dying. The Daughters of Charity established a Foundling Hospital with wet nurses, and they experimented with cow’s milk. The first seminary Vincent started was at Bon-Enfants in 1636, and he initiated others at Bordeaux, Reims, Rouen, and Agen.
      Vincent was the same age as the Abbot of Saint-Cyran, and they became friends in the circle of Bérulle. After Bérulle’s death in 1629 Saint-Cyran led the Devouts and criticized the policies of Cardinal Richelieu who had him arrested on May 14, 1638. Vincent declined to discuss Saint-Cyran’s religious beliefs with the powerful Cardinal, and he judiciously phrased his deposition to protect his friend. Saint-Cyran was a Jansenist, and he was not released from prison until after Richelieu’s death. Jeanne de Chantal and the Bishop Guérin of Geneva asked Vincent for a mission at Annecy, and Louis XIII’s foreign minister Pierre Brulart, Marquis de Sillery, donated money for that purpose on June 23, 1639.
      Vincent de Paul was concerned about the suffering of people in the war zones, especially in Lorraine. He raised 1,500,000 livres and 33,000 meters of cloth for Lorraine, and he appealed to Louis XIII who contributed 45,000 livres. Saint-Lazare became a refuge for survivors from Lorraine. This is one of the first attempts to organize relief for an entire region. Vincent wanted to develop a rule for taking vows of poverty, charity, and obedience, but he did not want it to be a religious order which would be subordinate to the Pope. Claude Cornuel was the former president of the Chamber of Accounts, and in his will he left 6,000 livres to Vincent to help convicts. He sent priests to be chaplains to the prisoners in the tower of Saint Bernard, and they took them food and clean linen. Vincent established a resident seminary to educate priests at Saint-Lazare in 1637, and Cardinal Richelieu offered 1,000 écus for more seminaries in 1642. Richelieu’s niece, the Duchess of Aiguillon, was active in the Ladies of Charity, and after her uncle’s death she left the court and devoted her life to charity. Ladies protecting young girls became the Daughters of Providence in 1643 when Vincent gained the approval of the Archbishop of Paris.
      That year Queen Anne chose as coadjutor the Archbishop’s nephew Jean François Paul de Gondi, whom Vincent had tutored. As Regent she chose a Council of Conscience initiated by Richelieu that included Mazarin, Chancellor Séguier, bishops Potier and Cospean, the confessor Jacques Charton, and Vincent de Paul. They advised her on religious issues, candidates for bishoprics and abbeys, and on the assignment of ecclesiastical benefices. In July 1643 Vincent had a house opened in Marseilles, and the Duchess of Aiguillon gave 14,000 livres to provide four priests to help galley slaves. She also financed the building of a hospital there. In 1644 the Queen contributed 2,000 livres to Vincent to aid nobles of Lorraine. She usually followed the advice of Vincent, and not even Mazarin could dissuade her as he himself admitted in a letter. Vincent opposed giving benefices and church positions to sons of nobles, especially when they were children. Once a duchess threw a stool that wounded Vincent’s head because he would not recommend her son for a bishopric, and he calmed down his companion by noting how much love she had for her son. In 1645 houses were founded at Saint-Méen, Le Mans, Genoa, and Turin. The next year Vincent sent missionaries to Limerick and Cashel in Ireland, and in 1651 Cromwell’s army besieged and sacked Limerick. In 1646 Vincent sent Jean Barreau as consul to Algiers. By 1647 the Mission had twenty houses and several seminaries.

France Governed by Mazarin 1653-60

Descartes’ New Philosophy

      René Descartes was born on March 31, 1596 at La Haye in the province of Touraine. He was named after his godfather René Brochard who was the King’s counselor and judge magistrate at Poitiers. His mother died 14 months later, and his father worked in Brittany. René was raised and taught to read and write by his grandmothers. In 1604 Henri IV endowed a Jesuit college at La Fleche, and René enrolled in 1607. In the first four years he learned Latin and Greek, and then he spent three years studying ethics and logic, physics and mathematics, and metaphysics. He was a sickly child and was not required to attend prayers and lessons early in the morning, and Descartes developed the habit of meditating every morning in bed. He was cared for by Father Dinet who later become confessor to Louis XIII and Louis XIV. He moved to Poitiers in 1615 and earned his licentiate in civil and canon law at the university in November 1616. By then he had read Montaigne’s Essays and had less interest in book learning. He inherited enough money that he could afford to spend his life writing about science and philosophy. He was influenced by the writings of Ramon Lull, Johannes Kepler, Tommaso Campanella, and Rosicrucians. In 1618 Descartes served as a military officer in the Dutch army under Prince Maurice of Nassau at Breda. There in November he met Isaac Beeckman, a scientist, who asked his help in mathematics. By the end of the year Descartes had written his “Compendium of Music.” In January 1619 he was painting, studying military architecture, and learning Dutch. After serving in the army of the Catholic Duke Maximilian of Bavaria, Descartes resigned by summer.
      While sober in Neuburg, Germany on the night of November 10-11, 1619 Descartes had three dreams, and in the third one a book had a Latin poem by Ausonius which asked, “What path shall I follow in life?” From that experience he believed he was being divinely guided by the Spirit of Truth to develop a new philosophy. Descartes traveled in Germany and the Netherlands before returning to France in 1622. After several months in Paris he visited Italy from September 1623 until May 1625. Then he spent two years in Paris as a gentleman, gambled, and even fought a duel over a love affair.
      By 1628 Descartes had written his Rules for the Direction of the Mind in Latin, though it was unfinished; it was published posthumously in Dutch in 1684 and in Latin in 1701. The first rule is to direct the mind toward sound and correct judgments. He believed all sciences are inter-connected and may be studied all together to increase the light of reason. Rule 2 is to seek indubitable knowledge, and he advised rejecting probable ideas. He found arithmetic and geometry to be most certain and recommended seeking that kind of certainty. Rule 3 advised directing inquiries to what can be clearly seen and certainly deduced. He warned against numbering testimonies of views because the truth is usually discovered by few rather than many. Studying the views of past philosophers teaches us history but does not give us scientific knowledge. The two ways of knowing are intuition and deduction (reason). Intuition is a conception that is not doubtful, and it is more certain than deduction. An individual can intuit that one exists and that one thinks. Rule 4 states that one needs a method to find the truth. Descartes believed that the human mind has something divine from which comes “useful modes of thought.” Algebra can do for arithmetic what geometry has done for figures. The ancients intuited that virtue is better than pleasure and that honor is preferable to utility. One should start with what is simplest and easiest. Rule 5 is to reduce propositions to make them simpler and then ascend to knowledge in similar steps. Rule 6 is to notice what is simple and compare how others are not. An absolute is a pure and simple essence that is independent, universal, and a cause while relatives are composite, dependent, and effects.
      Rule 7 states that to make science complete we must “scrutinize the movement of thought” methodically. People often deduce conclusions too quickly and inaccurately. Rule 8 says that if the understanding does not have an intuitive cognition, it should stop. He noted that simple natures may be spiritual or corporeal or both. Rule 9 advises paying attention to insignificant and easily mastered facts and contemplate them for a long time until the truth is seen clearly and distinctly. Rule 9 states that the mind may pursue inquiries of others especially those in which the order is explained. Rule 10 notes that several simple truths may be contemplated to reflect on their relations to one another to increase certainty and the power of the mind. Rule 12 recommends using the understanding (intuition and reason) aided by imagination, sense perception, and memory in order to intuit simple propositions and discover truths. We should consider ourselves and the objects to be known. Only the spiritual understanding perceives the truth. The second part on examining questions was left incomplete.
      Descartes at the home of the Papal Nuncio Baigné heard a discourse by the Sieur de Chandoux on philosophy, and his critical comments impressed Cardinal de Bérulle and the Franciscan friar Marin Mersenne. Descartes shared his grand vision for a new philosophy with Bérulle who encouraged him. In 1629 he went to Franeker in the United Provinces of the Dutch Republic and lived in Amsterdam, Leiden, Deventer, Utrecht, Santpoort, Endegeest, and Egmond for the next twenty years except for three trips to France, one to England, and one to Denmark. He moved 24 times and preferred being near a university and a Catholic church.
      When Descartes was ready to publish The World (Le Monde, ou Traité de la Lumiere) in 1633, he learned that the Inquisition had condemned Galileo for adopting the Copernican view of the solar system. Descartes had also accepted this theory and decided not to publish The World. In 1634 he conceived a daughter with the servant of his landlord in Amsterdam, but she died at the age of five.
      In 1637 Descartes anonymously published in French at Leiden three scientific works Dioptic, Meteors, and Geometry with an introduction entitled Discourse on Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason and Seeking for Truth in the Sciences. This work became well known, and he acknowledged his authorship. His only remuneration was 400 copies that he could give to his friends.
      Descartes began the Discourse on Method by recognizing that all humans have the capacity to reason and use good sense and that the diversity of opinions derives from different thoughts. Thus it is important to apply one’s mental powers well. Authors have revealed the best of their thoughts in books which can be read, but Descartes decided to study the “great book of the world,” hoping to find much more truth. Thus he swept away things he learned in school so that he could replace them with his own rational conceptions. He used logic and moved very slowly. He applied four laws. First was to accept as true only what he clearly recognized to be so. Second, he divided the difficulties into as many parts as possible. Third, he started with the most simple and easy to understand and moved gradually to the more complex. Fourth, he sought to make his reviews complete without omitting anything. He endeavored to use formulas as in geometry, analysis, and algebra and to correct errors with them.
      In the third part of the Discourse on Method Descartes considered rules of morality. He began with the maxim to obey the laws and customs of his country, and in observing others he was more concerned with what they did rather than what they said. His second maxim was to be as firm and resolute in his actions as he could and not follow dubious opinions. His third maxim was to always conquer himself rather than fortune, to change his own desires instead of the order of the world. His last rule was to review human occupations and try to choose the best which he believed to be cultivating his reason and seeking the knowledge of truth by his method. He aimed to judge wisely so as to act well and acquire all the virtues and other good things.
      In the fourth part he aimed to prove the existence of God and the soul by metaphysical reasons. He rejected as false anything he could doubt until he was left with only his doubting self or thinking soul. Therefore he concluded that the formula “I think; therefore I am” is the most indubitable truth he could find, and he took this as the first principle of his philosophy. He conceived that he could exist without a body and without the world but not without his intelligence which he took to be the essence of the human soul. He also realized that it is better to know than to doubt. He believed that God had created this human nature and that God is a much more perfect being than he who must depend on God for his existence. To know the essence of soul one must raise one’s mind above of what is perceived by the senses or the imagination. He considered the outer world less certain than the existence of God and the soul. The most certain truth is that God exists as a perfect being. In his discussion of science and the physical world he noted that the human soul is very different from the soul of brutes. He recognized that experiments are needed to advance knowledge so that causes and effects can be understood.
      Descartes wrote his Meditations on First Philosophy in Latin. He circulated the manuscript to theologians and philosophers and included six sets of Objections and Replies in the first edition published at Paris in August 1641; it was dedicated to the “doctors of the sacred faculty of theology in Paris.” The replies were by Johannes Caterus, a group gathered by Marin Mersenne, Thomas Hobbes, Antoine Arnauld, Pierre Gassendi, and another group. A second edition also included a reply by the Jesuit Pierre Bourdin.
      In the Meditations on First Philosophy Descartes suggested that God and the soul are better demonstrated by philosophical discussion rather than by theological argument, and that this would also be more effective in converting those who have no faith. He also wanted to show that God can be known more certainly than the things of the world. He aimed to prove that God exists and that the human soul is distinct from the body though they are conjoined. He advised readers that we must realize that our minds are finite and limited while God is incomprehensible and infinite. Descartes accepted as true and certain that he learned much from the senses; but because sometimes they had been deceptive, one cannot trust them completely. He found that the human mind is easier to know than the body. Thought is an attribute that belongs to him and cannot be separated from him. Bodies are not known by the senses or the imagination but by the understanding. Descartes asked if God could be a deceiver because if he does not know about that, then no knowledge could be certain. He defined God as a substance that is infinite, independent, omniscient, omnipotent, and by which he and everything else exists. He realized that these could not have come from him and concluded that God exists. He hoped that his knowledge could increase infinitely. If he were perfect, he would have no desires; but we can imagine nothing more perfect than God. If he is a conscious being, then God must also be conscious and could be perfect. He depends on God to be greater than himself, and he hopes to obtain a place as part of a great universe. If the will is not restrained by the understanding, it can fall into errors and mistake the evil for good.
      Anna Maria van Schurman (1607-78) was an acquaintance of Descartes, but he did not find the value in reading the scriptures in Hebrew that she did. She was a painter and a scholar, and her most influential book was her Dissertation on the Aptitude of Women’s Intelligence for Learning and Advanced Studies which was published at Paris in 1638 and was translated into several languages.
      Descartes developed a close friendship with Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia. She first wrote to him on May 6, 1643. They corresponded regularly, and he considered her the only mind who found metaphysics and mathematics easy. She was skeptical and a pessimist, and he tried to persuade her to accept his optimism. In July 1644 his Principles of Philosophy was published at Amsterdam, and he dedicated it to Elisabeth. One year later he urged her to read Seneca’s On the Happy Life (De Vita Beata). He also suggested three rules for morality. First, use the mind to discover what should or should not be done in all situations. Second, be resolved to implement whatever reason advises without regard to passions or desires. Third, be aware that it is useless to desire goods not possessed that are beyond one’s power.
      In his Principles of Philosophy Descartes hoped to win over Jesuits, and he sent them twelve copies; but he found sales of this book disappointing. As usual Descartes began by advising the doubting of all things; but he noted that this can not be done in the conduct of life because we have to follow opinions that are merely probable most of the time. He asserted that we have free will which enables us to abstain from assenting to doubtful things in order prevent errors. He distinguished the soul which thinks from the body, and he defined the thinking as consciousness. Because we are not the cause of ourselves he asserted that God is the cause. God is not corporeal, does not perceive with senses, and is not the cause of errors or sin. Thought has two modes. The understanding of sense perception, imagining, and conceptions is different from willing by desires, aversions, affirming, denying, and doubting. Both will and understanding are needed for judgment. The will may extend beyond the understanding and cause errors. Humans have the power of will and are thus deserving of praise or blame. Descartes believed that free will is self-evident, but he also held that everything is pre-ordained by God. He reconciled these by asserting that God comprehends all possibilities as well as all reality, thus taking in all the free choices of humans. No one intends to err, but the will does err. Descartes suggested that the main cause of errors is prejudices from childhood that are not forgotten. The other parts of this book are on material things, the visible world, and the Earth.

Descartes on Emotions

      Descartes began writing about emotions in October 1645, and he was encouraged by Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia’s questions. He sent her a draft in April 1646 and accepted her revisions. In November 1649 The Passions of the Soul was published by Louis Elzevir in Amsterdam and by Henri le Gras in Paris.
      Although Descartes is a dualist, in The Passions of the Soul he acknowledged that in life the soul and the body are conjoined. In this book he began by noting that what in the soul is a passion is manifested in the body as an action. Thought comes from the soul while heat and movement proceed from the body. The difference between a living body and a dead one is the presence of the soul. As the study of human physiology was then in an early stage, I shall skip over his explanation of how the passions operate in the body.
      Descartes differentiated two kinds of desires, one which concerns the soul itself as when one loves God or some immaterial object and the other in which actions affect the body. Perceptions and imagination have the same division. The soul experiences feelings or emotions. The organs of the senses are connected by the nerves to the brain. What causes fear in one man may stimulate courage in another; fear incites one to flee while courage motivates one to fight or to stand and face the threat. Memory preserves the understanding of experiences we desire to consult. Imagination enables us to conceive or visualize something we desire to consider even if we have never perceived it with the senses. The will is able to restrain anger that might move us to strike. Descartes noted that the soul is a unity without diverse parts like the body. Yet he observed that some souls are stronger than others, and a strong soul needs knowledge of the truth. Some resolutions are based on false opinions, but actions based on knowledge of the truth never lead to regret or repentance. Humans are capable of acquiring dominion over their passions if they apply enough work in training and guiding them.
      Descartes discussed briefly the emotions of wonder, esteem, disdain, generosity, pride, humility, veneration, love, hatred, desire, hope, fear, jealousy, confidence, despair, irresolution, courage, emulation, cowardice, terror, remorse, joy, sadness, mockery, envy, pity, self-satisfaction, repentance, favor, gratitude, indignation, anger, shame, disgust, regret, and gaiety, but he focused on the six chief emotions of wonder, love, hatred, desire, joy, and sadness.
      Wonder is a surprise that causes the soul to consider something rare and extraordinary, and an excess of wonder is astonishment. Wonder is useful in causing us to learn and remember what was previously unknown, but the ignorant have little inclination for this.
      Love is an emotion caused by wanting to join oneself willingly to agreeable or good objects, but hatred stimulates the desire to be separated from hurtful or bad things. Benevolent love wishes those we love well, but concupiscent love stimulates a desire to be loved. Affection is given to those one loves who are less esteemed than oneself; friendship is love for an equal; and devotion is love for someone or something one esteems more than oneself. One may have devotion for God, a prince, a country, a town, or an admired person. Descartes also distinguished love of the good from the love for the beautiful which he called attraction or delight. Similarly hatred of evil things is different than disliking what is ugly.
      Desire is a wish for something agreeable. This search for what is good includes avoiding what is bad. Joy results from having what is good and sadness from experiencing what is perceived as bad. Sensual pleasure produces joy, and suffering pain causes sadness, though in some cases pleasure may cause sadness and pain joy.
      Descartes advised that it is helpful to differentiate desires which depend on us which morality can regulate from desires that depend on others. He believed that one cannot have too much desire for virtue. To increase this it is best to free the mind from less useful desires. Descartes considered the exercise of virtue the sovereign remedy against the passions. He wrote,

For whoever has lived in such a way
that his conscience cannot reproach him
for ever having failed to perform those things
which he has judged to be the best
(which is what I here call following after virtue)
receives from this a satisfaction
which is so powerful in rendering him happy that
the most violent efforts of the passions never have
sufficient power to disturb the tranquility of his soul.3

      Descartes believed that the generous do not despise others but excuse their faults from lack of knowledge rather than lack of good will. The generous are courteous, affable, and obliging and are masters of their desires, jealousy, envy, hatred, fear, and anger. Pride is having a good opinion of oneself without generosity. Flattery can cause one to overvalue oneself. Virtuous humility is recognizing the infirmity of our own nature and faults we may have committed so that we do not prefer ourselves to anyone because they can use their free will also. Vicious humility is lacking resolution as though one could not use free will to prevent doing what one would regret. Jealousy arises from the fear of losing what one possesses. Bravery is based on hope. People experience envy when they are annoyed by the good fortune of others they believe are unworthy. Envy mixes sadness with hatred. Pity is sadness mingled with love and good will toward those suffering especially if it is undeserved. The generous and noble-minded feel compassion for others and the desire to help them.
      Self-satisfaction follows the doing of a good action. Repentance is the sadness felt after committing a bad action, but realizing this can help us do better in the future. Favor derives from the love of someone and the desire that they will have good fortune. Indignation is hatred for those who do evil or good to persons who do not deserve it, and it has an element of wonder and surprise. Anger is hatred toward those who have done evil or injured someone, especially if it is oneself. Anger includes the desire to stop harmful actions and to gain revenge. Glory comes from self-love and the desire to be praised. Shame is a sadness based on self-love and a fear of being blamed, though it can also be humility and mistrust of oneself. Hope can motivate one to seek glory, and the fear of shame can prevent one from doing bad things. Prudence teaches us to master our emotions, and self-control enables us to do so.

      After twelve years of regency Queen Kristina of Sweden had begun to rule Sweden in December 1644 at the age of 18. Descartes corresponded with her on ethics, and she invited him to visit her. After completing Passions of the Soul in August 1649 and sending her a copy, he arrived at Stockholm in early October. Kristina required him to tutor her on his philosophy at five in the morning during the winter. He caught a cold on February 1, 1650 and died of pneumonia ten days later. According to his editor Claude Clerselier before dying Descartes said,

My soul, you have been held captive a long time.
This is the time for you to leave prison
and to relinquish the burden of the body.
You must suffer this rupture with joy and courage.2

Corneille’s Comedies

      Pierre Corneille was born on June 6, 1606 in Rouen in a bourgeois family. His father and grandfather worked for the government. Pierre was educated at the Jesuit College in Rouen from 1615 to 1622, and in 1624 he earned his licenciate to practice law. Four years later his father purchased two governmental offices for him, and he held them for the next twenty years while he was writing plays. The comedy Mélite ou les fausses lettres was his first play and was performed in December 1629. His plays were successful, and Cardinal Richelieu selected him and four other playwrights to follow his directions in putting on plays from 1635 to 1638. Corneille received a pension and was ennobled in 1637. He still felt the contempt of aristocrats, and he was not admitted into the French Academy until 1647.
      In Mélite, or False Letters Eraste is in love with beautiful and intelligent Mélite, and he introduces her to his friend Tircis who wants to marry for money. Mélite does not want to give up her freedom for romance either; but she and Tircis both are changed when they meet each other and fall in love. Eraste is frustrated and gives love letters he says are from Mélite to Philandre, who breaks off his engagement to Cloris to woo Mélite. When he implies he has conquered Mélite, Tircis feels betrayed and challenges him to a duel, but cowardly Philandre runs away. Mélite hears that Tircis took his own life and faints. Eraste is told she is dead and goes crazy until he learns she is alive. In the happy ending Mélite and Tircis are to marry, and Eraste is given the hand of Cloris. This romantic comedy captivated French audiences with witty and charming characters undergoing the throes of young love.
      Corneille’s second play Clitandre or Innocence Preserved is a romantic comedy with enough violence to make it a tragicomedy. Rosidor and Caliste love each other. Rosidor has rejected Pymante and Clitandre. Dorise also loves Rosidor, and in the forest she finds a sword and goes after her rival Caliste, telling her that Rosidor has been unfaithful. Pymante and two accomplices disguised as peasants ambush Rosidor. He, who is favored by the king, kills the two accomplices as Pymante flees; but Clitandre, who loves Caliste and has the queen and prince on his side, is blamed for that attack and is arrested by the king. Dorise disguises herself, and Pymante tells her that Rosidor is dead and tries to rape her. Dorise uses a hairpin to gouge out Pymante’s eye and escapes to the prince. He learns that Pymante is the criminal and pardons Clitandre urging him to marry Dorise, but he refuses. However, Rosidor and Caliste are to wed, and the king persuades Clitandre to accept Dorise. Clitandre was performed in the 1630-31 season and was published in March 1632 dedicated to the Duke of Longeville who criticized Cardinal Richelieu for the execution of Marshal Marillac that month.
      The comedy La Veuve ou le traitre trahi (The Widow or the Traitor Betrayed) was performed in the next season and is similar to the plot of Mélite with more action and less lyrical poetry. The widow Clarice is engaged to Philiste. Alcidon wants Clarice but pretends to be in love with Philiste’s sister Doris who intends to marry Florange as her mother has arranged. Alcidon persuades his friend Célidan to abduct Clarice for him while Philiste urges Doris to reject Florange and accept Alcidon. Célidan wants Alcidon to give up Clarice and marry Doris, but Célidan learns of Alcidon’s plan from Clarice’s old nurse and takes Clarice back to Philiste for which he is allowed to wed Doris, leaving Alcidon alone.
      In the 1632-33 season Corneille presented two more romantic comedies—La Galerie du Palais ou l’amie rivale (The Palace Galery or the Rival Friend) and La Suivante (The Servant) which continue the similar plot structure of two young lovers who are separated and then reunited. La Place Royale ou l’amoureux extravagant (The Royal Square or the extravagant lover) presented in the 1633-34 season goes against the usual ending of comedies by having the heroine Angélique enter a convent while the hero Alidor is glad to be able to live freely for himself.
      Corneille’s innovative comedy The Theatrical Illusion was successfully produced in 1636. Pridamant has not heard from his son Clindor for ten years and hires the magician Alcandre to find out where he is, and the magician on a screen shows Clindor with the vainglorious soldier Matamore (whose name in Spanish means “Moor-killer”). Matamore says he does not attack European kings but ravages the Africans. Adraste is courting Isabelle who tells him she does not return his love even though her father wishes that. When Clindor tells Isabelle that he worships her, she says she is his. Adraste tries to get her servant Lyse to expose their lovemaking; Alcandre assures Pridamant that Lyse loves Clindor and will not do that. Géronte commands his daughter Isabelle to marry Adraste, but she refuses, saying that obeying would only make her hate him. Clindor tells Lyse that he loves her for her beauty but that he prefers Isabelle because of her wealth. Adraste with bandits attacks Clindor who kills Adraste with a sword. Clindor is imprisoned and sentenced to death, and Isabelle wants to die too. Lyse seduces the jailer and promises to marry him if he will help Clindor to escape. They free Clindor for Isabelle. The magician shows Pridamant how Clindor is thriving. In the fifth act they are in a theater troupe, and Isabelle plays Hippolyta to Clindor’s Theagenes while Lyse acts the role of Clarina. Pridamant is afraid that Clindor is being killed, but Alcandre explains it is only a play. His son is successful because theatre is so popular now. This comedy shows how a play can be a magical act that shows people an imitation of reality that may convey the lessons of life.
      Corneille’s The Liar (Le Menteur) produced in 1644 is based on Alarcon’s Spanish comedy The Truth Suspected (La verdad sospechosa) which was published in 1634. Corneille moves the setting from Madrid to Paris and to French culture. Dorante has been studying law at Poitiers and arrives in Paris where he delights in fooling people by making up stories about himself. He claims to have fought in Germany as he flirts with Clarice. His servant Cliton tells him that her friend Lucrece is prettier. Dorante’s friend Alcippe is nearly engaged to Clarice, but she pretends to be Lucrece to fool Dorante. His father Géronte wants Dorante to marry Clarice, but he says he got married in Poitiers. Alcippe becomes jealous and challenges Dorante to a duel. Philiste breaks up the duel and tells Alcippe that Dorante is a liar. Clarice, pretending to be Lucrece, tells Dorante he has lied to her. Cliton notes that to lie well “One needs alertness, wit and memory. One mustn’t get confused, and still less blush.”4 Dorante brags to Cliton that he killed Alcippe and then when he appears, tells how he was cured. Dorante bribes Lucrece’s servant Sabine to take a love note to her mistress. Philiste tells Géronte that his son lied about being married, and the father reprimands his son. Dorante says he is in love with Lucrece and asks his father to help arrange the wedding. Dorante while talking with Clarice and Lucrece realizes he got them mixed up. He pretends he knew earlier and says he always loved Lucrece. They are to marry as Alcippe weds Clarice. Corneille wrote The Sequel to the Liar (La Suite du Menteur) based on Lope de Vega’s Amar sin saber a quién for the next season, but Dorante’s selfless lies in this play proved to be less amusing.

Corneille’s Tragedies to 1648

      Corneille’s first tragedy Médée (Medea) performed in 1635 was based on tragedies by Euripides and Seneca. Medea in a jealous rage kills not only her husband Jason’s lover Creusa but also her father, King Creon, and her own children. The play portrays a strong woman who challenges patriarchy with desperate violence in the year France declared war against Spain.
      Corneille’s best and most successful play Le Cid was performed in early 1637 dedicated to Cardinal Richelieu’s niece, Madame de Cambalet. That year it was translated into English and then into Spanish and other western languages. It is based on the Spanish epic Las Mocedades del Cid by Guillén de Castro about the 11th-century Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar who became famous for leading Spaniards against the Moors. Chimene and Rodrigo are in love and have their fathers’ permission to marry. The Infanta of Castile secretly loves Rodrigo too but knows she should marry a prince. Chimene’s father, the Count of Gormas, is upset that King Fernando has appointed Rodrigo’s father, Don Diego, to tutor the prince. The Count slaps Diego who asks his son Rodrigo to avenge him. The King orders the Count to apologize, but he refuses. Rodrigo kills the Count in a duel, and Chimene asks the King for justice. Rodrigo tells Chimene to kill him, but she loves him and will not do that. Diego advises his son to lead the army against the Moors, and he wins a great victory and is named “the Cid” which means “the Lord.” The King tells Chimene that Rodrigo was killed, and she faints, showing she really loves him. Told the truth, she still demands vengeance for her late father. The King says she can choose a champion, and she promises to marry the winner. Don Sancho volunteers to fight for her. Rodrigo tells Chimene he will not fight back, but she urges him to do so. Sancho goes to Chimene who assumes he killed Rodrigo. However, the King explains that Rodrigo won and let Sancho live. Obeying the King, Chimene pardons Rodrigo and agrees to marry him. Though tragic the romantic ending makes this play a tragicomedy. The story depicts the conflicts between the will for duty and honor against the feelings of romantic love. The Spanish devotion to honor through violence makes some tragedy inevitable.
      Corneille’s next tragedy Horace (Horatius) was produced in March 1640 and was dedicated to Cardinal Richelieu. Based on Livy’s history of the battle for rulership between the Roman Horatii and the Alban Curiatii, it is set during the reign of Tullus Hostilius (c. 672-640 BC). Sabine is a sister of the Curiatii but is married to young Horace whose sister Camilla is betrothed to Curiace. Camilla is afraid that she will not be able to marry a man who will defeat the Romans or be enslaved by them. An oracle predicting she will be united with Curiace gives her hope, but in a nightmare she saw blood and corpses. Curiace tells her that a truce as been declared to choose three warriors from each side to fight, and the losers will be subjects instead of slaves. The Horatii brothers are chosen to fight the three Curiatii brothers. Camilla urges Curiace to decline to no avail, and he breaks off their engagement. Sabine fails to persuade her brothers to kill her to make their loyalty undivided. The two women learn that the battle of champions was stopped by the two armies after two Horatii were killed and Horace ran away. His father Horace is ashamed of his son, but he cleverly has retreated from the three wounded Curiatii so that he could fight and kill them one at a time. Now old Horace is proud and advises his daughter Camilla to marry the Roman Valerius instead of Curiace. Camilla refuses and bitterly criticizes the victorious Romans. This angers young Horace so much that he kills her. Horrified Sabine ask her husband to kill her too. Horace also wants to die. Old Horace pleads for his son, and King Tullus pardons him because of his victories over the Curiatii.
      After the 1639 tax revolt in his native Rouen, Corneille wrote the political tragicomedy Cinna or the Clemency of Augustus. More than a dozen conspiracies had threatened the government led by Cardinal Richelieu. Cinna, grandson of Pompey the Great, is in love with Emilia whose father Toranius had tutored Octavius Caesar (63 BC-14 CE) who became Emperor Augustus and during the civil wars killed his tutor. She has persuaded Cinna to kill Augustus to avenge her father. Augustus summons Cinna and Maximus, who also loves Emilia and is in the conspiracy. Augustus tells them he wants to abdicate and asks their advice. Maximus opposes monarchy and agrees he should give up power, but Cinna urges him to remain to prevent more strife. Augustus is persuaded to stay on and appoints these two to help him govern the empire, and he gives the hand of his adopted daughter Emilia to Cinna. When Maximus learns that Emilia loves Cinna, his freedman Euphorbus advises him to inform on Cinna; but Maximus urges Cinna to kill the tyrant for Roman freedom. Cinna tells Emilia he does not want to kill Augustus; but she gets so upset that he decides to kill himself after the assassination. Euphorbus tells Augustus that Cinna is leading the conspiracy and that Maximus drowned himself. The Emperor and his wife Livia agree that clemency would be better than another execution. Maximus is alive and wants to run off with Emilia, but she rejects him. Augustus reminds Cinna how he has favored him and persuades him he cannot rule better than himself. Augustus learns that Emilia instigated the conspiracy, and she and Cinna both want to die. Maximus also confesses. Augustus generously pardons them all, advises Cinna to marry Emilia, and appoints him consul. Finally Livia prophesies that Augustus will be remembered as a great ruler. This drama implies the increasing power of monarchy with Richelieu under Louis XIII and foreshadows the increased absolutism of Louis XIV.
      Corneille dedicated Polyeuctus to the new regent Queen Anne after the death of Louis XIII in 1643. The tragedy takes place in Armenia’s capital Melitene during the reign of Emperor Decius (r. 249-51) who enforced Roman religion by persecuting disobedient Christians. The leading noble Armenian Polyeuctus has recently married Paulina, daughter of the Roman governor Felix. The Christian Nearchus converts Polyeuctus who is baptized. Paulina was in love with the Roman knight Severus, but in her dream he told her that her father Felix will kill her husband. Severus arrives and finds her married but agrees not to disturb that. Polyeuctus is going to a victory celebration at a temple to destroy the idols, and he persuades Nearchus to aid him. The duty of Severus is to make sure the Emperor’s religious laws are enforced. Felix sentences Nearchus to death, hoping that will change Polyeuctus, and Paulina pleads for him. Felix realizes that the death of Polyeuctus will enable Severus to marry his daughter, helping his career. Yet he sends Paulina to plead with Polyeuctus, who is eager for martyrdom. When he cannot convert her, he suggests she marry Severus after his death; but she urges Severus to intervene on behalf of Polyeuctus. Felix prefers to talk with Paulina and Polyeuctus, who is not dissuaded by their efforts even though Felix asks Polyeuctus to teach him how to be a Christian. After his martyrdom Paulina becomes a Christian, followed by her father. Severus confirms Felix as governor, and he hopes he can persuade the Emperor to stop the persecution. This Christian drama reflects the activities of Protestants during the Reformation who destroyed icons they considered idols in Catholic churches, and its acceptance in the story of this saint may represent an olive branch to French Huguenots.
      Corneille’s Death of Pompey (La Mort de Pompée) was produced in the 1643-44 season. Pompey (106-48 BC) called “the Great” was a powerful Roman general who was defeated by Julius Caesar in the battle at Pharsalus. Ptolemy XIII had pushed aside his older sister Cleopatra VII to become sole ruler of Egypt. After Pompey’s defeat Ptolemy has to decide what to do with the fleeing Roman general. His chief advisor Photinus and his army commander Achillas urge him to have Pompey killed, but the Roman soldier Septimus who now serves him urges him to give Pompey to Caesar. Cleopatra reminds her brother that Pompey crowned him and confides that she loves Caesar who is coming. Ptolemy decides to kill Pompey to please Caesar, and Acoreus tells Cleopatra how they cut off Pompey’s head. She tells Ptolemy that Caesar has freed her from her imprisonment. Photinus warns that Caesar always brings war and slavery, but Ptolemy goes to welcome him and offers him his throne. Caesar says Rome does not like kings. Caesar blames Ptolemy’s advisors and wants Pompey honored. His widow Cornelia tells Caesar she is his prisoner, not his slave, and Caesar honors her too. Ptolemy notes that Caesar’s army now controls Alexandria, and he knows Caesar loves Cleopatra. Caesar calls her queen, realizes he is now foremost in Rome and the world, and declares he loves her. Cornelia warns Caesar of a plot against him and turns over her conspiring slaves, but she still wants vengeance. Caesar tells Cleopatra that they will defeat Photinus and Achillas. Cornelia arranges for Pompey’s body to be burned, and she knows that Caesar’s avenging her husband is helping Cleopatra. Cornelia asks Caesar for her ships, and he arranges for her to have Pompey’s head to be burned. A mob has killed Ptolemy and cheers Queen Cleopatra. The drama depicts part of the transition of Rome to an absolute monarchy and empire.
      Corneille’s Rodogune, Princess of Parthia was produced in the 1644-45 season and in the 1647 publication was dedicated to the Duke of Enghien, who later became the Prince of Condé, in recognition of his military victories especially at Rocroi in May 1643 and at Dunkirk in October 1646. Corneille stated in 1660 that Rodogune was his favorite play. Although Queen Cleopatra of Syria is the protagonist, Corneille named it Rodogune so that people would not assume it was about the famous Cleopatra of Egypt. The play is set at the royal palace at Seleucia (Syria) in 121 BC and is primarily based on the Roman History by Appian of Alexandria and Justin’s Universal History. Queen Cleopatra had married three times and in 125 BC succeeded her late husband, Demetrius Nicanor. She must declare which of her twin sons Antiochus and Seleucus is older and will succeed her. The princes are both in love with the Parthian Princess Rodogune who is a hostage. They agree not to divide her and the throne but that she should be queen by marrying the one who succeeds. Cleopatra is jealous of Rodogune because Nicanor wanted to marry her when he was a captive. Parthians besieged Seleucia, but they made a truce because Rodogune is held hostage. Cleopatra wants a king who will fight her wars and demands that the son she chooses kill her enemy Rodogune. The Parthian ambassador Orontes tells Rodogune they do not have enough men to fight. Antiochus and Seleucus ask Rodogune to choose the next king, and she offers herself to the one who will kill Cleopatra. They refuse, and Seleucus chooses Antiochus who proposes to Rodogune; but she still wants him to kill his mother. Antiochus suggests she kill him instead, but Rodogune admits she loves him. Cleopatra recognizes him as oldest and opposes his marriage but gives in. She tries to instigate Seleucus against his brother but fails. The Queen decides to kill both her sons. Seleucus is slain, but at the wedding celebration Rodogune prevents Antiochus from stabbing himself and drinking the wine poisoned by Cleopatra who then drinks it herself. She hopes punishment of all her crimes will fall on King Antiochus, who prays for more propitious hopes.

Corneille’s Later Plays


1. Quoted in Saint Francis de Sales and His Friends by Maurice Henry-Couannier, tr. Veronica Morrow, p. 185.
2. Lettres de Mr. Descartes ed. Claude Clerselier Preface to Volume 1 quoted in Descartes: A Biography by Desmond M. Clarke, p. 408.
3. The Passions of the Soul by René Descartes tr. E. S. Haldane and G. R. T. Ross in The Philosophical Works of René Descartes, Volume 1, p. 399.
4. The Liar by Pierre Corneille tr. John Cairncross, lines 934-935.

Copyright © 2015 by Sanderson Beck

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EUROPE & Reform 1517-1588

Germanic Empire and the 30-Year War
Eastern Europe 1588-1648
Scandinavia 1588-1648
Netherlands Divided 1588-1648
Spanish and Portuguese Empires 1588-1648
Cervantes, Lope de Vega & Calderon
Italy and Spanish Rule 1588-1648
France’s Henri IV, Richelieu & Mazarin
Vincent, Descartes & Corneille
England, Ireland & Scotland 1588-1625
Britain of Charles and Civil War 1625-49
Shakespeare’s Plays
English Theater 1588-1642
Summary and Evaluation


Chronology of Europe 1588-1648
World Chronology

BECK index