Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux was a French poet and critic.
Boileau did much to reform the prevailing form of French poetry, as Blaise Pascal did to reform the prose. He was greatly influenced by Horace.
The surname "Despréaux" was derived from a small property at Crosne near Villeneuve-Saint-Georges. He was the fifteenth child of Gilles Boileau, a clerk in the parlement. Two of his brothers attained some distinction: Gilles Boileau, the author of a translation of Epictetus; and Jacques Boileau, who became a canon of the Sainte-Chapelle, and made valuable contributions to church history. His mother died when he was two years old; and Nicolas Boileau, who had a delicate constitution, seems to have suffered something from want of care.
Sainte-Beuve puts down his somewhat hard and unsympathetic outlook quite as much to the uninspiring circumstances of these days as to the general character of his time. He cannot be said to have been early disenchanted, for he never seems to have had any illusions; he grew up with a single passion, "the hatred of stupid books." He was educated at the Collège de Beauvais, and was then sent to study theology at the Sorbonne. He exchanged theology for law, however, and was called to the bar on December 4, 1656. From the profession of law, after a short trial, he recoiled in disgust, complaining bitterly of the amount of chicanery which passed under the name of law and justice. His father died in 1657, leaving him a small fortune, and thenceforward he devoted himself to letters.