Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V16, Page 785 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: it!
LITCHI, or LEE-CHEF, the fruit of Nephelium Litchi, a small tree, native of southern China and one of the most important indigenous fruits. It is also cultivated in India. The tree bears large compound leaves with two to four pairs of leathery lanceolate pointed leaflets about 3 in. long, and panicles of small flowers without petals. The fruits are commonly roundish, about 12 in. in diameter, with a thin, brittle, red shell which bears rough protuberances. In the fresh state they are filled with a sweet white pulp which envelops a large brown seed, but in the dried condition the pulp forms a blackish fleshy substance. The pulp is of the nature of an aril, that is, an additional seed-coat. Nephelium Longana, the longan tree, also a native of southern China, is cultivated in that country, in the Malay Peninsula, India and Ceylon for its fruit, which is smaller than that of the litchi, being half an inch to an inch in diameter with a nearly smooth yellowish-brown brittle skin, and containing a pulpy aril resembling that of the litchi in flavour. Another species, .N. lappaceum, a tall tree native of the Malay Peninsula, where it is known under the names Rambutan or Rambosteen, is also cultivated for its pleasantly acid pulpy aril. The fruit is oval, bright red in colour, about 2 in. long and covered with long fleshy hairs. Nephelium belongs to the natural order Sapindaceae, and contains about twenty-two species. latent sense of literary criticism; and, at a later stage, the critical spirit was still further stimulated by the performance of dramatic pieces written by competing poets. The epical record of the past was supplemented by the lyrical record of contemporary events, and as the Homeric poets had immortalized the siege of Troy, so Pindar commemorated Salamis. Prose of any permanent value would first show itself in the form of oratory, and the insertion of speeches by early historians indicates a connexion with rhetoric. The development of abstract reasoning would tend to deprive prose of its superfluous ornament and to provide a simpler and more accurate instrument. No new genre has been invented since the days of Plato. The evolution of literature is completed in Greece, and there its subdivisions may best be studied. Epic poetry is represented by the Homeric cycle, lyrical poetry by Tyrtaeus, dramatic poetry by Aeschylus, history by Herodotus, oratory by Pericles, philosophy by Plato, and criticism by Zoilus, the earliest of slashing reviewers; and in each department there is a long succession of illustrious names. Roughly speaking, all subsequent literature is imitative. Ennius transplanted Greek methods to Rome; his contemporary L. Fabius Pictor, the earliest Roman historian, wrote in Greek; and the later Roman poets from Lucretius to Horace abound in imitations of Greek originals. The official adoption of Christianity as the state religion changed the spirit of literature, which became more and more provincial after the downfall of the empire. Literature did not perish during the " dark ages " which extend from the sixth century to the beginning of the 1 rth, but it was subordinate to scholarship. The dissolution of Latin was not complete till about the middle of the 9th century, and the new varieties of Romance did not become ripe for literary purposes till a hundred years later. Meanwhile, not a single literary masterpiece was produced in western Europe for five centuries; by comparison only do Boethius and Venantius Fortunatus seem to be luminous points in the prolonged night; the promise of a literary renaissance at the court of Charlemagne was unfulfilled, and the task of creating a new literature devolved upon the descendants of the barbarians who had destroyed the old. The Celtic and Teutonic races elaborated literary methods of their own; but the fact that the most popular form of Irish verse is adopted from Latin prosody is conclusive evidence that the influence of Roman—and therefore of Greek—models persisted in the literature of the outlying provinces which had attained political independence. The real service rendered to literature by the provincials lay in the introduction and diffusion of legends freighted with a burden of mystery which had disappeared with Pan, and these new valuable materials went to form the substance of the new poetry. The home of modern European literature must be sought in France, which assimilated the best elements in Celtic and Teutonic literature. From the r 1th to the 14th century, France was the centre of intellectual life in Europe, as Greece and Rome had been before, and as Italy was to be afterwards. The chansons de geste, inspired by the sense of patriotism and the yearning for religious unity, inculcate feudal and Catholic doctrine, and as society in the western world was universally committed to feudalism and Catholicism, these literary expressions of both theories were widely accepted and copied. The Germanic origin of the French epic is lost sight of, and imitators are attracted by the French execution, and by the creative power of the chansons de geste. Again, France takes the stories of the Arthurian court from Welsh texts or from the lips of Welsh settlers, re-handles the romantic element, and, through Marie de France and Chretien de Troyes, imparts to the whole a touch of personal artistry which is absent from the chansons de geste. The matiere de Bretagne goes forth to Italy, Germany and England—later to Portugal and Spain—bearing the imprint of the French genius. Thus France internationalizes local subjects, and first assumes a literary function which, with few interruptions, she has since discharged. She further gives to Europe models of allegory in the Roman de la rose, founds the school of modern history through Villehardouin, inaugurates the religious drama and thesecular theatre. She never again dominated the literatures of Europe so absolutely. The literary sceptre passed from France to Italy during the 14th century. Brunetto Latini, who wrote in French as well as in Italian, is the connecting link between the literatures of the two countries; but Italy owes its eminence not so much to a general diffusion of literary accomplishment as to the emergence of three great personalities. Dante, Boccacio and Petrarch created a new art of poetry and of prose. England yielded to the fascination in the person of Chaucer, Spain in the person of her chancellor Lopez de Ayala, and France in the person of Charles d'Orleans, the son of an Italian mother. Petrarch, once ambassador in France, alleged that there were no poets out of Italy, and indeed there were no living poets to compare with him elsewhere. But in all countries he raised up rivals—Chaucer, Marot, Garcilaso de la Vega—as Sannazaro did a century and a half later. Sannazaro's Arcadia captured the Portuguese Montemor, whose pastoral novel the Diana, written in Spanish, inspired d'Urfe no less than Sidney, and, as d'Urfe's Astree is considered the starting-point of the modern French novel, the historical importance of the Italian original cannot be exaggerated. Spain never obtained any intellectual predominance corresponding to that exercised by France and Italy, or to her political authority during the 16th and 17th centuries. This may be attributed partly to her geographical position which lies off the main roads of Europe, and partly to the fact that her literature is essentially local. Cervantes, indeed, may be said to have influenced all subsequent writers of fiction, and the influence of Spanish literature is visible in the body of European picaresque tales; but, apart from Corneille and a few other dramatists who preceded Moliere in France, and apart from the Restoration drama in England, the influence of the Spanish drama was relatively small. In some respects it was too original to be imitated with success. Much the same may be said of England as of Spain. Like Spain, she lies outside the sphere of continental influence; like Spain, she has innumerable great names in every province of literature, and, in both cases, to Europe at large these long remained names and nothing more; like Spain, she is prone to reproduce borrowed materials in shapes so transformed and rigid as to be unrecognizable and unadaptable. Moreover, the Reformation isolated England from literary commerce with the Latin races, and till the 18th century Germany was little more than a geographical expression. Even when Germany recovered her literary independence, Lessing first heard of Shakespeare through Voltaire. Neither Shakespeare nor Milton was read in France before the 18th century—the first translated by Ducis, the second by Dupre de Saint-Maur—and they were read with curiosity rather than with rapture. On the other hand, Boileau, Rapin and Le Bossu were regarded as oracles in England, and through them French literature produced the " correctness " of Queen Anne's reign. Horace Walpole is half a Frenchman, Hume imitates Montesquieu's cold lucidity, Gibbon adapts Bossuet's majestic periods to other purposes. On the other hand Voltaire takes ideas from Locke, but his form is always intensely personal and inimitably French. After the 16th century English literature, as a whole, is refractory to external influence. Waves of enthusiasm pass over England—for Rousseau, for Goethe—but leave no abiding trace on English literature. During the latter half of the 18th century France resumed something of her old literary supremacy; the literatures of Italy and Spain at this period are purely derivative, and French influence was extended still further on the continent as the result of the Romantic movement. Since that impulse was exhausted, literature everywhere has been in a state of flux: it is less national, and yet fails to be cosmopolitan. All writers of importance, and many of no importance, are translated into other European languages; the quick succession of diverse and violent impressions has confused the scheme of literature. Literature suffers likewise from the competition of the newspaper press, and as the press has multiplied it has grown less literary. The diversities of modern interests, the want of leisure for concentrated thought, suggest that literature may become once more the pleasure of a small caste. But the desire for the one just form which always inspires the literary artist visits most men sometimes, and it cannot be doubted that literature will continue to accommodate itself to new conditions. (J. F.-K.)
End of Article: LITCHI

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.