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François Edouard Joachim Coppée

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Poet, dramatist and novelist, b. at Paris, 26 January, 1842; d. 23 May, 1908. His father, a clerk in the war department, gave him the example of a true Christian life. He studied for a few years at the Lycée Saint-Louis, but his family being in straightened circumstances, he left the school before graduating to aid in their support. He completed his education by private study, spending long hours in the Library Ste-Genevieve, after a hard day's work. In 1863, he joined the group of poets later celebrated under the name of the "Parnassiens", and three years later published his first collection of verses, "le Reliquaire", soon followed by "Intimités". His first play "Le Passant", was produced in 1869. Through the influence of Princesse Mathilde, he was appointed assistant-librarian at the senate, a sinecure which allowed him to devote himself to literature. From 1871 to 1885 he was librarian at the Comédie Française. In 1876 he received the cross of the Legion of Honour, and was elected to the French Academy in 1884, succeeding Laprade, another poet whose talent did no little honour to the Catholic Faith. The works of Coppée come under four classes: narrative poems, dramas, novels and short stories. The narrative poems, including "Le Reliquaire" (1866), "Intimites" (1868), "Les Humbles" (1872), "Contes en Vers" (1880), and "Les Poèmes Modernes" (1867-69), present picturesque studies of contemporary life, the sentimental realism of which is entirely free from coarseness or triviality. He wrote a great number of plays in verse, chief among which are: "Le Passant" (1869), "Le Luthier de Cremone" (1876), "Severo Torelli" (1883), which is regarded as his dramatic masterpiece, "Les Jacobites" (1885), "Pour La Couronne" (1895), "Fais ce que Dois" (1871), and "Le Pater", a play dealing with an episode of the Commune; long forbidden by the Government, it obtained a great success in 1890. His drama is remarkable for its lofty and generous ideals, while its technique shows a constant effort to combine the theory of romanticism with the demands of modern theories. His works in prose comprise several novels: "Henriette" (1889); "Une idylle pendant le siege" (1874); "Les vrais riches" (1898); "Rivales" (1893); "le Coupable" (1897), and many short stories "Contes en prose" (1882); "Vingt contes nouveaux" (1883); "Contes rapides" (1889). The short stories are the most popular part of his works. Simplicity, truth and vividness in the portrayal of familiar scenes, constitute the charm that has so endeared the author to readers the world over. In "La Bonne Souffrance", written in 1898, after a serious illness that brought him back to the religious faith of his childhood, there are elements of great strength and sweetness. The last years of his life were saddened by cruel sufferings endured with patience. He was a modest man and led a quiet simple life. He was always ready to help those who struggle through life in obscurity. He gave to the French Academy, in 1907, a sum yielding $200 annually to be used as a prize for young poets.


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