Jean Racine, a French dramatist, born at La Ferté-Milon, Île-de-France, Dec. 21, 1639, died in Paris, April 22, 1699. He studied at the college of Beauvais, at Port Royal, and at the college of Harcourt. He won the friendship of Boileau and Molière and the good will of Louis XIV., who gave him a pension in 1660 for his ode on occasion of his marriage. His reputation as a dramatic poet of remarkable genius was firmly established in 1667 by his Andromaque, and in rapid succession appeared Les plaideurs, a comedy (1668), Britan-nicus (1669), Berenice (1670), Bajazet (1672), Mithridate (1673), Iphigénie en Aulide (1674), and Phèdre (1677). The last, one of his masterpieces, was so coldly received, owing to the intrigues of his enemies, that he ceased to write for the stage, and devoted himself exclusively to his duties as official historiographer of the reign of Louis XIV. At the suggestion of Mme. de Maintenon he wrote in 1689 Esther, a Biblical drama, for the young ladies at the seminary of St. Cyr, where it was performed, and in 1691 Athalie, which was only recited, and not performed at the Théâtre Français until a much later period. Boileau regarded this as one of his finest productions, and it is still used in schools as a model of dramatic eloquence.
In 1697 appeared his memoir on the unhappy condition of France, which he had written at the request of Mme. de Maintenon. Louis XIV. was displeased with it, and Racine's death is said to have been hastened by his grief on this account. He left some prose writings, which are marked by terseness, perspicuity, and eloquence. The last quality is peculiarly striking in his speech before the academy on the reception of Thomas Corneille (Jan. 2, 1685), when he paid a warm tribute to the genius of Cor-neille's illustrious brother. His miscellaneous poems also possess high merit. The most valuable complete editions of his works are by Pierre Didot the elder (3 vols, fol., Paris, 1801-'5), richly illustrated and forming part of the magnificent Louvre editions; by La Harpe (7 vols. 8vo, 1807); Geoffroy (7 vols., 1808); Aimé Martin, with notes from the principal commentators (7 vols., 1820); and Mesnard (5 vols., 1865-9), to be completed in 7 vols., and to form part of the new editions of Les grands écrivains de la France, under the direction of Adolphe Régnier. - Racine's second son, Louis (1692-1763), wrote two didactic poems, La grace and La religion, remarkable, especially the latter, for elegance, but deficient in most other respects; they are chiefly intended to vindicate the principles of Jansenism. His Mémoires sur la me et les ouvrages de Jean Racine (2 vols., 1747) is a more valuable performance.