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Lemercier, Louis Jean Nepomucene

LEMERCIER, LOUIS JEAN NEPOMUCENE (1771-1840), French poet and dramatist, was born in Paris on the 21st of April 1771. His father had been intendant successively to the due de Penthievre, the comte de Toulouse and the unfortunate princesse de Lamballe, who was the boy's godmother. Lemercier showed great precocity; before he was sixteen his tragedy of Meliagre was produced at the Theatre Franqais. Clarissa Harlowe (1792) provoked the criticism that the author was not assez rout pour peindre les roueries. Le Tartufe revolutionnaire, a parody full of the most audacious political allusions, was suppressed after the fifth representation. In 1795 appeared Lemercier's masterpiece Agamemnon, called by Charles Labitte the last great antique tragedy in French literature. It was a great success, but was violently attacked later by Geoffrey, who stigmatized it as a bad caricature of Crebillon. Quatre metamorphoses (1799) was written to prove that the most indecent subjects might be treated without offence. The Pinto (1800) was the result of a wager that no further dramatic innovations were possible after the comedies of Beaumarchais. It is a historical comedy on the subject of the Portuguese revolution of 1640. This play was construed as casting reflections on the first consul, who had hitherto been a firm friend of Lemercier. His extreme freedom of speech finally offended Napoleon, and the quarrel proved disastrous to Lemercier's fortune for the time. None of his subsequent work fulfilled the expectations raised by Agamemnon, with the exception perhaps of Fredegonde el Brunehaut (1821). In 1810 he was elected to the Academy, where he consistently opposed the romanticists, refusing to give his vote to Victor Hugo. In spite of this, he has some pretensions to be considered the earliest of the romantic school. His Christophe Colomb (1809), advertised on the playbill as a comedie shakespirienne (sic), represented the interior of a ship, and showed no respect for the unities. Its numerous innovations provoked such violent disturbances in the audience that one person was killed and future representations had to be guarded by the police. Lemercier wrote four long and ambitious epic poems: Homere, Alexandre (1801), L' Atlanliade, ou la theogonie newtonienne (1812) and Mo'ise (1823), as well as an extraordinary Panhypocrisiade (1810-1832), a distinctly romantic production in twenty cantos, which has the sub-title Spectacle infernal du XVI' siecle. In it 16th-century history, with Charles V. and Francis I. as principal personages, is played out on an imaginary stage by demons in the intervals of their sufferings. Lemercier died on the 7th of June 1840 in Paris.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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