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THOMAS SULLY (1783—1872)

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Originally appearing in Volume V26, Page 59 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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THOMAS SULLY (1783—1872), American artist, was born at Horncastle, England, on the 8th of June 1783. His parents, who were actors, took him to America when he was nine years old, settling at Charleston, South Carolina, and he was first instructed in art by a French miniature painter. Afterwards he was a pupil of Gilbert Stuart in Boston, and in 1809 he went to London and entered the studio. of Benjamin West. He returned in 1810, and made Philadelphia his home, but in 1837 again visited London, where he painted a full length portrait of Queen Victoria for the St George's Society of Philadelphia. Sully was one of the best of the early American painters. He died in Philadelphia on the 5th of November 1872. Among his portraits are those of Commodore Decatur (City Hall, New York); the actor George Frederick Cooke, as Richard III. (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadephia); Lafayette (Independence Hall); Thomas Jefferson (U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York); Charles and Frances Anne Kemble, and Reverdy Johnson. His son ALFRED SULLY (1821—1879) an officer in the United States army, was a brigade-commander in the Army of the Potomac in 1862-63, and after. I863 commanded the department of Dakota and conducted several campaigns against hostile Indians in the north-west. In 1865 he was breveted brigadier-general in the regular army and major- general of volunteers. SULLY-PRUDHOMME, RENE FRANCOIS ARMAND PRUDHOMME (1839-1907), French poet, was born in Paris on the 16th of March 1839. He was educated at the Lycee Bonaparte, where after a time he took his degree as Bachelier es Sciences. An attack of ophthalmia then interrupted his studies and necessitated an entire change in the course of his career. The scientific habit of mind, however, which he had derived from these years of technical study never left him; and it is in the combination of this scientific bent, with a soul aspiring towards what lies above and beyond science, and a conscience perpetually in agitation, that the striking originality of Sully-Prudhomme's character is to be found. He found employment for a time in the Schneider factory at Creuzot, but he soon abandoned an occupation to which he was eminently unsuited. He subsequently decided to read law, and entered a notary's office at Paris. It was during this period that he composed those early poems which were not long in acquiring celebrity among an ever-widening circle of friends. In 1865 he published his first volume of poems, which had for sub-title Stances et poetises. This volume was favourably reviewed by Sainte-Beuve, to whose notice it had been brcught by Gaston Paris. It was at this moment that the small circle of which Leconte de Lisle was the centre were preparing the Parnasse, to which Sully-Prudhomme contributed several pieces. In 1866 Lemerre published a new edition of the Stances et poemes and a collection of sonnets entitled Les Epreuves (1866). From this time forward Sully-Prudhomme devoted his life entirely to poetry. It was in the volume of Les Epreuves that the note of melancholy which was to dominate through the whole work of his life was first clearly discernible. In 1869 he published a translation of the first book of Lucretius with a preface, and Les Solitudes. In 1870 a series of domestic bereavements and a serious paralytic illness resulting from the strain and fatigue of the winter of 1870, during which he served in the Garde Mobile, shattered his health. In 1872 he published Les Ecuries.d'augias, Croquis ilalicus, Impressions de la guerre (1866-72) and Les Deslins, La Resnite des heurs in 1874, in 1875 Les Vaines tendresses, in 1878 La Justice, in 1886 Le Prime, and in 1888 Le Bonheur. All these poems were collected and republished under the title of Poesics, occupying four volumes of his Qiuvres (6 vols., 1883-19o4). After the publication of Le Bonheur he practically ceased to produce verse, and devoted himself almost entirely to philosophy. He published two volumes of prose criticism L'expression clans les beaux arts (1884) and Reflexions sur fart des vers (1892). Various monographs by him appeared from time to time in the philosophical reviews, and among them a remarkable series of essays (Revue des deux mondes, Oct. 15th, Nov. 15th, 1890) on Pascal, and a vaivable study on the " Psychologie du libre arbitre " in the Revue de meta physique ct de morale (1906). He was elected to the Academy on the 8th of December 1881. On the loth of December .1901 he was awarded the Nobel prize for literature, and devoted most of the money to the foundation of a prize for poetry to be awarded by the. Societe de gens delettres. He was one of the earliest champions of Captain Dreyfus. In 1902 he wrote, in collaboration with Charles Richet, Le Probleme des causes finales. During his later years he lived at Chatenay in great isolation, a victim of perpetual ill-health, and mainly occupied with his Vraie religion sedan Pascal (1905). He had been partially paralysed for some time when he died suddenly on the 6th of September 1907. He left a volume of unpublished verse and a prose work, Le Lien social, which was a revision of an introduction which he had contributed to Michelet's La Bible de t'humanite. What strikes the reader of Sully-Prudhomme's poetry first and foremost is the fact that he is a thinker; and moreover a poet who thinks, and not a thinker who turns to rhyme for recreation. The most strikingly original portion of his work is to be found in his philosophic and scientific poetry. If he has not the scientific genius of Pascal, he has at least the scientific habit of mind and a delight in mathematic certainties. In attempting to interpret the universe as science reveals it to us he has created a new form of poetry which is not lacking in a certain grandeur. One of his most beautiful poems, L'Ideal " (Stances et poemes), is inspired by the thought, which is due to scientific calculations, of stars so remote from our planet that their light has been on its way to us since thousands of centuries and will one day be visible to the eyes of a future generation. The second chief characteristic of Sully-Prudhomme's poetry is the extreme sensibility of soul, the profoundly melancholy note which we find- in his love lyrics and his meditations. Sully-Prudhomme is above all things introspective; he penetrates into the hidden corners of his heart; he lays bare the subtle torments of his conscience, the shifting currents of his hopes and fears, belief and disbelief in face of the riddle of the universe to an extent so poignant as to be sometimes almost painful. And to render the fugitive phases and tremulous adventures of his spirit he finds incomparably delicate shades of expression, an exquisite and sensitive diction. We are struck in reading his poems by the nobility of his ideas, by a religious elevation like that of Pascal; for there is in his work something both of Lucretius and of Pascal. Yet hey is far from being either an Epicurean or a Jansenist; he is rather a Stoic to whom the deceptions of life have brought pity instead of bitterness. As an artist Sully-Prudhomme is remarkable for the entire absence of oratorical effect; for the extreme simplicity and fastidious precision of his diction. Other poets have been endowed with a more glowing imagination; his poetry is neither exuberant in colour nor rich in sonorous harmonies of rhyme. The grace of his verse is a grace of outline and not of colour, his melody one of subtle rhythm; his verse is as if carved in ivory, his music like that of a perfect unison of stringed instruments. His imagination is inseparable from his ideas, and this is the reason of the extraordinary perspicuity of his poetic style. He extends poetry to two extreme limits; on the one hand to the borderland of the unreal and the dreamlike, as in a poem such as " Le Rendezvous " ( Vaines tendresses), in which he seems to express the inexpressible in precise language; on the other hand, in his scientific poems he encroaches on the province of prose. His poetry is plastic in the creation of forms which fittingly express his fugitive emotions and his elevated ideas. Both by the charm of his pure and perfect phrase, by his consummate art, and the dignity which informs all his work, Sully-Prudhomme deserves rank among the foremost of modern poets. (E. G.) See C. Herron, La Philosophie de Sully-Prudhomme (1907), Sully-Prudhomme by E. Zyromski (Paris 1907).
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