The Characters of La Bruyère (1645-1696) contains some of the most savage satire and the finest writing of the seventeenth century. Written when Louis XIV's overreaching ambitions were leading France to economic ruin, it reflects as succinctly as a cameo the sufferings of the common people, the pretensions of the great merchants and the arrogance and hypocrisy of the Court at Versailles. Although religious and a conservative by temperament, La Bruyère showed a new concern for social realities which foreshadowed the witty and corrosive spirit of the eighteenth century. But his classical style and unique moral sense turned the raw material of his indignation into a work of art. Voltaire spoke of the book's 'swift, concise, sinewy style, picturesque expressions, and its entirely new use 'of the French language which never yet offends against its rules'.
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