Arthur Augustus Tilley.

The literature of the French renaissance (Volume 2) online

. (page 24 of 34)
Online LibraryArthur Augustus TilleyThe literature of the French renaissance (Volume 2) → online text (page 24 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


liberal par-dela tous les rois, courageux en jeunesse et lors dc'sird de tous ;
en vieillesse aime de peu, qui avoit de grandes parties de roi, souhaite"
pour l'estre, avant qu'il le fust, et digne du royaume s'il n'eust point rdgnd :
c'est ce qu'en peut dire un bon Francois 3 .

His work is professedly a military history, and ho therefore
devotes a good deal of space to the account of battles and
sieges, some of them indeed petty skirmishes which derive
all their importance from his share in them. It is true that
he hardly ever refers directly to himself, but the veil under

1 The account of Biron's conspiracy an<l death forms anothei appendix.

2 See besides his eloquent preface a letter u> Sin kjularl < '

1. 472 ff.).

3 lid. XII. c. xxii (ed. Ruble, VIII. 78).



250 d'aubigne [ch.

which he conceals his presence 1 is not too thick to hide his
identity. From a literary point of view one could spare the
battles better than the skirmishes, for D'Aubigne is far from
successful in his descriptions of a pitched battle. This is
partly because he is too fond of technical terms, many of
which are unintelligible to the modern reader, but also because
he has himself no clear vision of the battle as a whole 2 . We
may perhaps except from this general condemnation the
accounts of Dreux and St Denis, though of the latter battle
we have a clearer narrative both from La Noue and Tavannes.
Military history though it is, the remarkable passages in
D'Aubigne's book are not the accounts of battles but the
dramatic scenes and other events which lend themselves to
stirring and vivid narrative, such as the scene between Coligny
and his wife at the outbreak of the war 3 , the escape of Henry
of Navarre from Paris 4 , the death-chamber of Henry III
when Navarre was hesitating as to his future action 5 , the
siege of Paris 6 , and the famous comparison between Navarre
and Mayenne 7 . D'Aubigne is fond of drawing portraits
shewing himself in this as in some other matters a close
student of Tacitus. Take this of the Constable de Montmo-
rency; grand capitaine, bon serviteur, mauvais ami, profitant
des inventions, labeurs et pertcs d'autrui, agissant par ruses;
mais a lenr defaut, us ant de sa valeur*. No doubt this portrait
leaves out a good many features and the term grand
capitaine seems unsuited to so unsuccessful a commander as
Montmorency, but it is a clever and artistic sketch, and it is
probably as true to life as most literary portraits. This love
of portraiture is a sign of D'Aubigne's interest in human

1 He generally refers to himself as //;/ icuyer du roi de Navarre, sometime.- as
nn capitaine or un maitre de camp.

- A it taut vaudrait donner dans tine fori t de piques que de nous Jeter dans ses
recits d'Arques 011 de Coutras, si on 11 avail pas d' autre narration plus distinct
pour en prendre idCe. Sainte-Beuve, Causeries du Lundi. X. 329.

3 III. ii.

4 VII. xx. Littre, Litterature et /u'sloire, 1875, pp. 193 ff., thinks that
Schiller was indebted to this scene for the idea of his dialogue between Gertrud
and Stauffacher in the First Act of Wilhelm Tell, but the resemblance is only
slight.

5 xii. xxiii. 8 xiii. vii. " xm. xxiii. B iv. \.






xx vi] d'aubigxk 251

nature, and it is mainly the same psychological interest which
gives a value to his admirable summaries of the political
situation. The remarkable chapter on the decline of the
League, which opens with the comparison between the King
of Navarre and Mayenne, may be described as a psycho-
logical study of the two parties, and it is interesting to find
in it a reference to a conversation with Montaigne, the very
man whose Essays gave so much stimulus to the study of
human nature 1 .

Considering D'Aubigne's temperament it is greatly to his
credit that there is so little trace in it of party passion. If
this is due in part to his lofty conception of the historian's
functions, it must also be remembered that when the work-
was completed, not only had his master's death two years
before revived all his old feelings of loyalty and admiration,
but he himself had mellowed and softened.

It was otherwise in the interval between the King's con-
version and the Edict of Nantes, when D'Aubigne, filled with
bitterness at what seemed to him the desertion of his party
by King and courtiers, wrote the savage satire of the Confession
catJiolique da sieur de Saucy. Nicolas Harlay de Sancy had
faithfully followed his royal master's changes in religion. Born
a Protestant he had become a Catholic at the massacre of St
Bartholomew, had returned to Protestantism, and in the year
1 597 was once more received into the arms of the Catholic
Church' 2 . "There is nothing left for him," said Henry I V,
forgetful of his own changes, " but to turn Turk 1 ." But S
was an able man and had done good service and had been
well rewarded for it. In D'Aubigne's eyes therefore he was
the typical apostate who barters his religion for place and pelf.
The pamphlet purports to be Sancy's explanation of hi - con-
version addressed to Jacques Du Perron, the Bishop of Evreux



1 " Suivant ce que me dit tin jour Michel Montagne, assavoir que 1,
a la Coitronne trouvent tons les eschelons jusques an marchepied du thro 1
aisez, mats que le dernier ne se pouvoit franc Jiir pour sa hauteur."

- The Confession de Sancy was begun and possibly the main porti
written at this time, but it contain- many 1

3 II ne fallait plus que turban. P. de L'Estoile, Journal t VII. 95.



252 d'aubigne" [ch.

and future Cardinal, to whose religious instruction he professed
that it was due. This framework serves D'Aubigne for a
bitter attack on Sancy and other men, such as Sponde and
Palma Cayet, who had yielded to Du Perron's persuasive
arguments, on Du Perron himself, who is always referred to
as M. le Convertisseur, on Protestants like Michel Hurault
and Jean de Serres whom he regarded as lukewarm in the
cause, on the Roman Church in general, and on the Court of
Henry III. The Apologie pour Herodote, which is referred to
in one place, has evidently served D'Aubigne as a model, and
after the fashion of that work he has introduced a plentiful
supply of scandalous and coarse stories. The satire is not
without power, but it is far too savage, and the irony, which
is its chief weapon, is somewhat clumsy and deficient in
humour. But, as in everything D'Aubigne wrote, there are
flashes of genius, such as : Cc nest pas changer que de suivre
tonsjours mime but. J'ay eu pour but, sans changer, le profit,
I'houneur, False et la seurte 1 , and Mais quel aise peuvent sentir
les Huguenots cousns en leurs cuirasses, comnie tortucs en leurs
coquilles ? Pour leur seurte Us n'out que Dieu pour tout potagc,
oil un homme de vion humeur ne sc fie qu'd raisou'-.

Les aventures du baron de Fceneste* is written with a much
lighter hand. The characters of the two chief interlocutors,
though slightly drawn, are sufficiently indicated, and shew
considerable humour. Feeneste is a young Gascon swash-
buckler and courtier, who, as his name implies, cares only for
appearances, while his friend Enay, an elderly gentleman of
Poitou with long experience of the Court and war, stands for
reality 4 . On this framework is built up what D'Aubigne
describes as ' a picture of the age w r ith some true and amusing

1 CEitvres, II. 335.

' *&•> P- 338- Some French writers have a much higher opinion of the work.
Poirson, for instance, says: Sous tons les rapports la Confession de Sancy est mi
chef ' d 'wtivre parmi les essais de notre literature naissante : Paseal et Saint-Simon
Font etudie ponr le surpasser et ne I'onl pas efface enlierement. [Hist, de Henri 77",
Iv - 348.) M. Faguet calls it la premiere des Provinciates.

3 (Euvres, II. 375 — 651.

4 Fseneste from the Greek <pa.Lv e a dai, to appear, and Enay from dvai. to
be. See D'Aubigne's preface to the first book.



xxvi] d'aubign£ 253

stories' {en ramassant quelques bourdes vrayes). Here again
we trace the inspiration of Henri Estienne, and the stories
play even a larger part than they do in the Confession de
Sancy; they are not only more numerous, but they are longer
and more amusing. It is needless to add that they are not
all for edification. The first three books, which appeared
from 1617 to 1619, give a picture of Court life during the
regency of Marie de' Medici, when the extravagance of the
nobles in dress and other forms of personal display was
becoming more and more ridiculous. The fourth book, which
was added, as we have seen, in 1630, begins by relating the
experiences of Faeneste at the Huguenot defeat at the Pont-
de-Ce (1620), and in the recent wars in the Valtelline and
Piedmont. It concludes with a collection of stories relating
to preachers.

D'Aubigne is a good raconteur; he is neither too bald and
brief like Beroalde de Verville, nor on the other hand does
he, like Rabelais, overlay his story with a too great wealth of
embroider}-. He has also a fair share of the dramatising
faculty. Some excellent stories are to be found in his letters.
His version of the well-known story of the Comte de Lor.
and his mistress's glove is better than Brantome's 1 . and he has
some remarkable stories about weir-wolves and witchcraft
and divination 2 . A selection from his letters would also
include two clever character-sketches of the elder Biron, and
Pomponne de Bellievre, chancellor to Henry IV 3 , a somewhat
flowery letter sent to James I with a copy of the Histoire
Universelle, a manly and eloquent one addressed to L< »uis X 1 1 1 ,
an amusing one to Odet de la Noue 4 , and the letters about
vers mesnres and the poets of his day 5 to which I have referred
in a previous chapter 6 .



1 CEuvres, I. 328 ff. For Brantome's version see hi- '.' .590.

2 In a series of letters addressed to La Riviere, the kin-'- firsl phj
(CEuvres, 1. 422 ff.).

3 ib. 186; 275. 4 ib- 331; 501 ; 465.

5 ib- 453 ! 457-

6 See ante, pp. 8 and 22. In another letter he refei
graphic invention [ib. 299).



254 D'AUBIGNtf [CH.

The chief impression that D'Aubigne's prose style, more
especially in his History, leaves upon the reader, is that of
extreme rapidity which seems to reflect the feverish energy
of the writer. Notable examples are the opening of the
Third book (which includes the account of the massacre of
Vassy), the narrative of the Barricades 1 , and that of the
assassination of Henry of Guise 2 . Rapidity of style generally
implies brevity, but D'Aubigne's brevity is partly owing to
the influence of Tacitus 3 . We learn from the preface to the
Vie a ses enfants that the followers of Henry of Navarre gave
more time than he approved to the study of that author, and
the young man in Les Tragiques who is represented as pouring
over the deaths of Seneca and Thrasea is evidently D'Aubigne
himself. D'Aubigne sometimes reproduces Tacitus's most
pregnant phrases, as in the portrait of Mayenne, and in
that of Henry III quoted above 4 . But he is no mere imi-
tator of Tacitus or his style would be intolerable ; rather,
recognising in Tacitus a spiritual kinsman, he has acquired
almost insensibly something of his concision and pregnancy.
In this respect he is a marked contrast to most sixteenth-
century writers, to Amyot with his smoothly flowing and
redundant language, to Montaigne with his endless digressions,
to Henri Estienne with his love of parentheses. In short
while the more characteristic writers of the sixteenth century
delight in playing round their subject, D'Aubigne, except on
special occasions, goes straight to his goal, never looking back.
never stopping for obstacles, forcing his way through grammar,
syntax, and even sense. But this eagerness to despatch his
subject leads him into the same defect as the digressive
tendency of the great majority of his contemporaries. As
Sainte-Beuve points out, D'Aubigne, like all sixteenth-century
writers, suffers from a want of nettete, that untranslateable

1 Book XI., c. xxiii.

2 Book XII., c. xiv.

3 In the notice to his readers which he affixed to his second volume,
D'Aubigne apologises for the concision of his style : Peut-estre que les clauses.
entees Pune dans V autre, pour rendre le style plus concis, contraindront un ail
courant de rebrousser chemin (ed. Ruble, VI. 367).

4 Ante, p. 249.



xxvi] d'aubigni?



2 ; 5



French term, which Vauvenargues calls le vernis des
maitres l .

But careless and rough though D'Aubigne generally is.
when he chooses to take pains he is a considerable artist, with
an eye for balance and proportion and the other requirements
of prose architecture. Take for example the following passage
from the admirably written preface to his History :

Je commence mon oeuvre a la naissance de Henri quatriesme, juste-
ment surnomme le Grand ; il n'est dddie a aucun qu'a la posteritc. Mon
dessein s'estend autant que ma vie et mon pouvoir. Je ne m'excuserai
point par crainte ni par esperance, plus empesche a chastier l'excez de
ma liberte qua me guerir du flatteur. Nourri aux pieds de mon Roi.
desquels je faisois mon chevet en toutes les saisons de ses travaux ;
quelque temps esleve - en son sein, et sans compagnon en privaute*, et lors
plein des franchises et seve"ritez de mon village, quelquesfois esloigne de
sa faveur et de sa cour, et lors si ferme en mes fidelitez, que, mesme au
temps de ma disgrace, il m'a fie ses plus dangereux secrets, j'ai recu de
lui autant de biens qu'il m'en faloit pour durer, et non pour m'eslever.
Et quand je me suis veu croise par mes infe'rieurs, et par ceux mesmes
qui sous mon nom estoyent entrez a son service, je me suis pave" en disant ;
" Eux et moi avons bien servi ; eux a la fantaisie du maistre, et moi a la
mienne, qui me sert de contentement -."

Or the fine peroration to the treatise Du debvoir mutuel des

roys et des subjects:

Le port de toutes nos tcmpestes est done dans le havre et au giron de
lamort, qui de nous entierement mesprisee ne peut plus nous espouvanter
de ses moyens ; car s'il faut donner du nes en terre dans une breche, ou
en quelque autre sorte de combat, e'est trouver ce que nous avons tant
cerche, e'est ce champ d'honneur duquel nous nous somnu's tant vante"s et
que nous avons eu honte d'esquiver de deux pas en arriere, e'est pour
celuy qui donne la vie heureuse et veritable pour la vaine et la fau
avec l'excellent gain au change, et au lieu de regrets nous comble de
fcelicitez 3 .

It is the imaginative character of D'Aubigne's prose which
stamps it with the hall-mark of the sixteenth century. This

\ Causeries du Lundi, X. 329.

- Hist. Univ., I. viii.

3 CEuvres, 11. 68. M. Faguet says of this passage, " II faut
pas au xvi e siecle une page d 'eloquence super;, in ; t qtHl faut a

trovers le xvii e pour en trouver une autre qui la vaille" (i ,!4°)-



256



d'aubigne [ch.



is perhaps less conspicuous in the History than in the Con-
fession de Sancy and Les Aventures de Fczneste, the more
familiar tone of which permits him to indulge more freely in
the use of metaphor and especially of homely metaphor. His
general freshness and raciness of speech also helps to give
unfailing life and colour to his style. The following passage
taken at haphazard from the History is a good average
example of it :

Au milieu de telles bordures, la France ne respirant que guerre, le roi,
pour commencer la noise a son profit, sous couleur de secourir les pro-
testans d'Allemagne, s'estoit saisi, par la ruse de son connestable, des
villes de Mets, Toul et Verdun, commencoit a mugueter Strasbourg. Et,
en me sine temps, la roine de Hongrie, sceur de l'empereur, ayant ramasse
tout ce quelle put des Pays-Bas, vint prendre et fortifier Stenai, brusla
force villes et bourgades vers la Champagne, contraignit le roi de
tourner bride, joint aussi que les princes allemans avoyent cogneu ses
desmarches 1 .

In short, when D'Aubigne is at his best, which it must be
confessed is not very often, he is inferior only to the two
greatest prose-writers of the sixteenth century, to Rabelais
and Montaigne, but he has considerable charm even in his
most careless mood.

D'Aubigne was barely twenty when he made his first
serious poetical effort. It was a sequence of a hundred
sonnets in honour of Diane Salviati (a niece of Ronsard's
Cassandre), which he entitled Hecatombe a Diane. The first
thirty or so sonnets are an agreeable variation from the
orthodox love-sonnets of the period, for they smell of smoke
and powder 2 , and they breathe the ardour of a lover who
having been severely wounded by a would-be assassin rode
sixty-six miles to die, as he thought, in his mistress's arms' 1 .
But D'Aubigne's inspiration is always somewhat short-winded,
and before long the sonnets begin to decline to the level
of poetical exercises. The odes which form the Third book

1 Book I. beginning of c. vi (ed. Ruble, I. 41 f.).
- lis sentent comme moy

La poudre, la mesche et le souffre.
3 Vie a ses enfants [CEuvres, 1. 20). The engagement was broken off by the
lady's father owing to the difference of religion.






xxvi] d'aubign£ 257

of his Printemps, the name he gave to this youthful poetry,
are much what one would expect from a fervent disciple of
Ronsard, but they shew a side of D'Aubigne's character
which is apt to be overlooked, the grace and esprit which
made him a conspicuous figure at the Court during the years
which followed the St Bartholomew. The following lines
have real merit ; they might have been signed by Belleau or
BaTf, and they would not have disgraced Ronsard himself.

Soubs la tremblante courtine
De ces bessons arbrisseaux,
Au murmure qui chemine
Dans ces gazouillans ruisseaux,
Sur un chevet touffu esmaille des couleurs
D'un million de fieurs,
A ces babillars ramages

D'osillons d'amour espris,
Au flair des roses sauvages
Et des aubepins floris,
Portez, Zephirs pillars sur mille fieurs trottans,
L'haleine du Printemps 1 .

And there is wit as well as modesty in the envoi :

Lecteur, pour m'excuser qu'est ce
Que je pourrois dire? — Rien.
Si j'allegue ma jeunesse,
Tu diras : je le vois bien 2 .

But on the whole it is easier to find good lines and good
stanzas than good poems. The very impetuosity which was
so marked a feature in D'Aubigne's character first inspired
his Muse and then betrayed her. He has not only poetical
feeling but considerable power of poetical expression, I><>1<1
images, picturesque and felicitous words, and a sense <>l"
harmony. But he has not the patience to polish or blot ;
thoughts, images, and words come tumbling over <>nc another,

1 Ode vii {CEnvres III. 131), and see also Odes xvi {i/>. 15:) and w
168). Ode ix is a variation on Desportes's Rozette, pour un feu
- ib. 205.

T. II. '7



2 i»8 D'AUBIGNE [CH.

Worse than this, when inspiration fails him he does not wait
for its return. Thus while we get lines like,

Devorant vos beautez de la faim de mon ame 1 ,

and

Void moins de plaisirs, mais void moins de peines :
Le rossignol se tait, se taisent les Syrenes ;

and from the same poem, L'Hiver du sieur UAubigne,

Qui a jamais este si friande de voyage,

Que la longueur en soit plus douce que la port - ?

on the other hand it is only the very shortest pieces that are
equally good throughout, such as the following epitaph on an
infant :

Cette grand' beaute si exquise,

En bref temps esclose et reprise,

Ne fut a nous que par depost :

Le Ciel la monstra par merveille

Comme une perle sans pareille

Qu'on descouvre, et serre aussi tost 3 .

In about the year 1575 D'Aubigne was introduced by
Pierre de Brach to Du Bartas, who shewed him the beginning
of his Semaine\ Fired by the spirit of emulation he wrote
a long epic in fifteen cantos, entitled La Creation, which is a
complete failure 5 . Then in 1577, being confined to his bed
by the wounds he had received at the Homeric combat of
Castel-Jaloux, he dictated the first part of a new epic, entitled
Les Tragiques*. The constant fighting in which he was
engaged for the next sixteen years left him little leisure for
writing poetry, but the poem seems to have been practically
completed before the death of Henry III and to have circulated

1 Sonnet xxiii (CEuvres, in. 26).

2 id. 298.

3 id. 313. Of D'Aubigne's minor poems the only ones printed in his lifetime
were Vers funedres sur Jodelle, Ballet de Circe (1582), and those contained in
Petitcs (ruvres mesties (1630).

4 I- 459-

5 III. 325 ff-

6 Vie a ses enfants (CEuvres, 1. 33) ; Hist. Univ. lib. VIII. c. 14; Preface to
Les T ragiques (CEuvres, IV. 4).






XXVI] D'AUBIGNE 2 rg

in manuscript soon afterwards 1 . It was not, however, till
1616 that D'Aubigne printed it at his private press at Maille.

I have spoken of Les Tragiqucs as an epic, and it may
roughly be described as a Huguenot epic, but it is so little of
an epic that perhaps it is fairer to describe it in the author's
own words as a poem in seven tableaux, of which two are in
a lofty tragic style (the fifth and seventh), two are in the style
of narrative (the first and sixth), and the remainder are in a
medium style, the second and third being more or less satirical
in character. But whatever we call the poem, it is badly
planned as a whole, without any semblance of unity. Nor
can much more be said for the individual tableaux of which it
is composed. Miseres is too general. Les Feux is merely a
versification of Crespin's book of martyrs. Les Fers is confused ;
even the account of the St Bartholomew is poor. Vengeances
opens well but degenerates into the worst part of the poem.
Jugement begins badly but improves somewhat, though it canm >t
be said that the Vision of the Last Judgment which concludes
the whole poem is really effective. D'Aubigne can see visions,
but only in a confused fashion, as through the smoke of a
battle. He is neither a Dante nor a Milton. Thus all tin-
supernatural part of his poem fails to make a clear impression
on the reader. Moreover his execution surfers from manj
the faults of the ordinary pamphleteer of his day, especially
from the love of piling up illustrations from classical and
biblical history.

By far the best book of the poem is the second, entitled
Princes, for it is here that D'Aubigne indulges most freely in
satire. The whole of the last quarter of the book, which
describes the arrival at Court of a young man and his father,
is admirable, and has all the realistic force of personal ob-
servation. It is here that we find the famous description of
the mignons :

Ce courtisan grison s'esmerveillant de quoy
Quelqu'un mesconnoissoit les mignons de son Roy,

1 The preface {il>. IV. 10) speaks of Henry IV having read
plusieurs fois when he was King of Navarre, ami see Hist. Univ. lib. XIII.
(ed. Ruble, VIII. 327).



/



2 <5o d'aubigne [ch.

Raconte leurs grandeurs, comment la France entiere,

Escabeau de leurs pieds, leur estoit tributaire.

A l'enfant qui disoit : " Sont-ils grands terriens,

Que leur nom est sans nom par les historiens?"

II respond: "Rien du tout, il sont mignons du Prince."

Ont-ils sur l'Espagnol conquis quelque province?

Ont-ils par leur conseil releve un mal heur,

Delivre leur pais par extreme valeur?

Ont-ils sauve - le Roy, command^ quelque armee

Et par elle gaigne quelq' heureuse journee ?

A tout fut respondu : " Mon jeune homme, je croy

Que vous estes bien neuf, ce sont mignons du Roy 1 ."

lis en content autant qu'il faut pour se vanter ;
Lisants ils ont pille" les pointes pour escrire,
lis sgavent en jugeant admirer ou sousrire,
Loiier tout froidement, si ce n'est pour du pain,
Renier son salut quand il y va du gain,
Barbets des favoris, premiers a les connoistre,
Singes des estimez, bons eschos de leur maistre :
Voila a quel scavoir il te faut limiter,
Que ton esprit ne puisse un Juppin irriter 2 .

Earlier in the book is the equally famous portrait of
Henry III :

Avoir raz le menton, garder la face pasle,

Le geste effemine, l'ceil d'un Sardanapale :

Si bien qu'un jour des Rois ce douteux animal,

Sans cervelle, sans front, parut tel en son bal :

De cordons emperlez sa chevelure pleine,

Sous un bonnet sans bord, faict a l'ltalienne,

Faisoit deux arcs voutez ; son menton pincete,

Son visage de blanc et de rouge empaste,

Son chef tout empoudre, nous monstrerent ridee,

En la place d'un Roy, une putain fardee 3 .

The next book, La Chambre doree, which is also mainly
satirical, has some fine passages, but the allegory in it is
overdone. A few other good passages will be found scattered
up and down the poem. They are chiefly satirical in character,

1 CEuvres, IV. 114.



Online LibraryArthur Augustus TilleyThe literature of the French renaissance (Volume 2) → online text (page 24 of 34)