Jean Francois Casimir Delavigne, a French lyric and dramatic poet, born in Havre, April 4, 1793, died in Lyons, Dec. 11, 1843. He was the son of a merchant, and at first a laborious rather than brilliant student at the Napoleon lyceum in Paris. His brother Germain, likewise a writer of plays, and his lifelong friend Eugene Scribe, then his fellow students, were his most intimate associates. In 1811 he produced a dithyramb on the birth of the king of Rome, which obtained for him the encouragement of Andrieux and the patronage of Francais de Nantes, a high officer of state. In 1814 he competed for the prize offered by the academy with his Charles XII d Narva, which, though unsuccessful, received honorable mention. He published in 1818 his three elegies, Les Messeniennes, so called in allusion to the songs of the conquered Messenians. In these he lamented the misfortunes of France resulting from the wars of Napoleon, and urged his countrymen to union and patriotism. They were very popular, and accorded so nearly with the national spirit without exciting partisan passion, that Louis XVIII. bestowed a sinecure librarianship upon the author.
He wrote two elegies on the life and death of Joan of Arc, and then produced his first tragedy, Les vepres siciliennes, which was performed at the Odeon in 1819, and was received with enthusiasm. It was soon followed by Les co-medierts, written to ridicule the company of the theatre Francais by which his first drama had been rejected, and in 1821 by Le Paria, in which he pleads the principle of the natural equality of men. His liberal ideas, repeated in several new lyrics, to which also he gave the name of Messeniennes, and his association with leaders of the opposition, lost him his place under the government, when the duke of Orleans, the future king Louis Philippe, made him librarian of the Palais Royal. He produced in 1823 his Ecole des meillards, a play which gained him in 1825 admission to the French academy. Refusing a pension now offered him by the government, which he believed hostile to public liberty, he resided a year in Italy, and returned to find that the public taste was changing from the classical to the romantic drama.
Delavigne conceived the idea of conciliating the two schools, of uniting classical elegance and purity with romantic boldness, and joined the romanticists, with the purpose of proving to them that pity, terror, and overpowering interest were not incompatible with sobriety of action and correctness of language. His Marino Faliero (1829), in the new form, obtained great success. He had begun the tragedy of Louis XL in Italy, but had abandoned it on the death of Talma, as he despaired of finding any other actor qualified to perform the principal part, till he witnessed the powers of Ligier in the part of Faliero. He now set himself to finish it, and was only briefly interrupted by the revolution of 1830, during which he improvised La Parisienne, the most popular song at the time of the insurrection, and wrote also a new Messenienne entitled Une semaine d Paris. Declining any personal profit from the triumph of the liberal cause, he resumed his labors, and completed Louis XI, which was produced in 1832; it is the greatest work of Delavigne in his second style, and has remained one of the most remarkable dramas on the stage.
It was followed by Les en/ants d'Edouard (1833); Don Juan d' Autriche, in prose, and one of his best pieces (1835); Une famille au temps de Luther (1836); La popularity (1838); La fille du Cid, in which he returned to his early manner (1839); and Le con-seiller rapporteur (1841). While at work on another tragedy, Melusine, he was taken sick, and died on a journey to Italy. His plays are distinguished as much for their purity of sentiment as their perfection of art; and notwithstanding the concessions which he made to the reigning school, he may justly be called a great classical dramatist. His works, with a memoir by his brother, appeared in 1845, in 6 vols., and a new edition of his plays in 1863, in 3 vols.