Just as Boileau was the model man of letters and literary critic of the French seventeenth century, so, in several ways, was Sainte-Beuve the model professional literary man of the nineteenth century in France. However, Sainte-Beuve, though he was a doctrinaire Romantic in much of his early work, cannot be so thoroughly identified with Romanticism as can Boileau with French Classicism. But Romanticism never took so firm and characteristic a hold in France as had Classicism, and it is probably accurate to say that Sainte-Beuve typifies the French literary world of the mid-nineteenth century. This view holds despite the fact that he is notorious for not being able to evaluate correctly many of his great contemporaries; Stendhal, Balzac, and Baudelaire were among the authors to whom Sainte-Beuve was blind. In this respect Sainte-Beuve was the opposite of Boileau, whose ability to identify the greatness of his contemporaries was remarkable. Sainte-Beuve’s strength lay in seeing the excellence of the literature of the past, and he was among the first to detect that Ronsard, who had been ignored for two hundred years, was a major figure in the French literary tradition. In this respect, too, he was the opposite of Boileau whose snobbish Classicism made him blind to the excellence of much of the literature of the Renaissance and the Middle Ages. This contrast between Boileau and Sainte-Beuve is instructive: it illustrates the strengths of Classicism and Romanticism and...
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