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CHENIER

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Originally appearing in Volume V06, Page 80 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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CHENIER, MARIE-JOSEPH BLAISE DE (1764-1811), French poet, dramatist and politician, younger brother of Andre de Chenier, was born at Constantinople on the 11th of February 1764.1 He was brought up at Carcassonne, and educated in Paris at the College de Navarre. Entering the army at seventeen, he left it two years afterwards; and at nineteen he produced Admire, a two-act drama (acted in 1786), and Edgar, ou le page suppose, a comedy (acted in 1785), which were failures. His Charles IX was kept back for nearly two years by the censor. Chenier attacked the censorship in three pamphlets, and the commotion aroused by the controversy raised keen interest in the piece. When it was at last produced on the 4th of November 1789i it achieved an immense success, due in part to its political suggestion, and in part to Talma's magnificent impersonation of Charles IX. Camille Desmoulins said that the piece had done more for the Revolution than the days of October, and a con-temporary memoir-writer, the marquis de Ferriere, says that the audience came away " ivre de vengeance et tourmente d'une soif de sang." The performance was the occasion of a split among the actors of the Comedic Francaise, and the new theatre in the Palais Royal, established by the dissidents, was inaugurated with Henri VIII (1791), generally recognized as Chenier's masterpiece; Jean Galas, ou l'ecole des juges followed in the same year. In 1792 he produced his Caius Gracchus, which was even more revolutionary in tone than its predecessors. It was nevertheless proscribed in the next year at the instance of the Montagnard deputy Albitte, for an anti-anarchical hemistich (Des leis et non du sang!) ; Fenelon (1793) was suspended after a few representations; and in 1794 his Timolecn, set to Etienne Maul's music, was also proscribed. This piece was played after the fall of the Terror, but the fratricide of Timoleon became the text for insinuations to the effect that by his silence Joseph de Chenier had connived at the judicial murder of Andre, whom Joseph's enemies alluded to as Abel. There is absolutely nothing to support the calumny, which has often been repeated since. In fact, after some fruitless attempts to save his brother, variously related by his biographers, Joseph became aware that Andre's only chance of safety lay in being forgotten by the authorities, and that ill-advised intervention would only hasten the end. Joseph Chenier had been a member of the Convention and of 1 This is the date given by G. de Chenier in his La Write sur to famille de Chenier (1844). the Council of Five Hundred, and had voted for the death of Louis XVI.; he had a seat in the tribunate; he belonged to the committees of public instruction, of general security, and of public safety. He was, nevertheless, suspected of moderate sentiments, and before the end of the Terror had become a marked man. His purely political career ended in 1802, when he was eliminated with others from the tribunate for his opposition to Napoleon. In 18or he was one of the educational jury for the Seine; from 1803 to 18o6 he was inspector-general of public instruction. He had allowed himself to be reconciled with Napoleon's government, and Cyrus, represented in 1804, was written in his honour, but he was temporarily disgraced in 18o6 for his Epitre a Voltaire. In 18o6 and 1807 he delivered a course of lectures at the Athenee on the language and literature of France from the earliest years; and in 18o8 at the emperor's request, he prepared his Tableau historique de Petal et du progres de la litterature francaise depuis 1789 jusqu'a i8o8, a book containing some good criticism, though marred by the violent prejudices of its author. He died on the loth of January 1811. The list of his works includes hymns and national songs—among others, the famous Chant du depart; odes, Sur la mart de Mirabeau, Sur l'oligarchie de Robespierre, &c.; tragedies which never reached the stage, Brutus et Cassius, Philippe deux, Tibere; translations from Sophocles and Leasing, from Gray and Horace, from Tacitus and Aristotle; with elegies, dithyrambics and Ossianic rhapsodies. As a satirist he possessed great merit, though he sins from an excess of severity, and is sometimes malignant and unjust. He is the chief tragic poet of the revolutionary period, and as Camille Desmoulins expressed it, he decorated Melpomene with the tricolour cockade. See the Euvres completes de Joseph Chenier (8 vols., Paris, 1823–'826), containing notices of the poet by Arnault and Daunou; Charles Labitte, Etudes litieraires (1846) ; Henri Welschinger, Le Theatre revolutionnaire, 1789–1799 (1881); and A. Lieby, Etude sur le theatre de Marie-Joseph Chenier (1902).
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