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the Fifth book and therefore in a sense doubtful.

3 Ronsard's style is much stronger than that of any of his followers.


chosen, and partly by a somewhat arbitrary treatment of the
strict rules of syntax. His defects are those of his qualities.
He is sometimes obscure, even unintelligible, and he cannot
construct a poetical period of more than four lines. Thus it
is a fair representation of his artistic merits and shortcomings
to say that he is more impressive in isolated passages than in
a whole poem, more impressive in short passages than in long
ones, and most impressive of all in single lines. Here is a
quatrain which rises above the ordinary familiar style of
satire :

Peres des siecles vieux, exemple de la vie,
Dignes d'estre admirez d'vne honorable enuie,
(Si quelque beau desir viuoit encor' en nous)
Nous voyant de la haut Peres qu'en dittes vous? 1

And here is a longer passage of considerable eloquence :

Iuste poste'rite a tesmoing ie t'apelle,
Toy qui sans passion, maintiens l'ceuure immortelle,
Et qui selon l'esprit, la grace et le sqauoir,
De race en race au peuple vn ouurage fais voir,
Vange ceste querelle, et iustement separe
Du Cigne d'Apollon la corneille barbare
Qui croassant par tout d'vn orgueil effronte"
Ne couche de rien moins que l'immortalite 2 .

Many of his single lines are more or less borrowed from
various collections of proverbs, but they are all stamped with
the mark of his own personality. Such are

Les fous sont aux echets les plus proches des Rois,


Le peche que Ton cache est demi pardonne.

The latter is one of Macette's numerous adages, and is the
translation of an Italian original, Peccato celato c mezzo
perdonato 1 \ But it is Regnier's rendering of a Spanish proverb
which best illustrates the most striking feature in his style-
its imaginative quality. Thus the original Muda se el pelo
como el zelo, " Our hair changes like our passions," is repre-

1 Sat. v. CEuvres, p. 42.

2 Sat. 11. ib. p. 19.

3 In a collection published by John Florio, London, 1591 (Vianey, p. 166).

T. II. 20


sented by the splendid line, in which the influence of Horace
may be also traced,

Et comme notre poil blanchissent noz desirs 1 .

I have already quoted the line in which vice is compared to a
banker driving in a carriage or riding on a horse. Another
good instance is the line in the Fourth satire :

Dire, en serrant la main, Dame, il men falloit point,

in which the idea and the last half of the line are taken from
the scene between Panurge and Rondibilis-. But it is the first
half which at once calls up a picture of the doctor closing his
hand on his fee. M. Vianey adds to these some striking
instances of the manner in which Regnier gives imaginative
life to inanimate objects, such as, of two bottles :

Qui disoient sans goulet : Nous avons trop vescu,
and of Macette :

Son ceil tout penitent ne pleure qu'eau beniste 3 .

It is this divine faculty of imagination which separates
Regnier from Malherbe and marks him definitely as belonging
to the Pleiad camp. The difference between the two schools
is admirably stated in the celebrated Ninth satire :

Cependant leur scauoir ne s'estend seulement,
Qu'a regrater vn mot douteux au iugement,
Prendre garde qu'vn qui ne heurte vne diphtongue,
Epier si des vers la rime est breue ou longue,
Ou bien si la voyelle a l'autre s'vnissant.
Ne rend point a Poreille vn vers trop languissant,
Et laissent sur le verd le noble de l'ouurage :
Nul eguillon diuin n'esleue leur courage,
lis rampent bassement foibles d'inuentions,
Et n'osent peu hardis tanter les fictions,
Froids a l'imaginer, car s'ils font quelque chose,
C'est proser de la rime, et rimer de la prose
Que l'art lime et relime et polit de facon
Qu'elle rend a l'oreille vn agreable son 4 .

1 Lenit albescens animos capillos, Odes, III. xv. 24. See E. Roy in Rev.
cthist. lift. in. 619 and Vianey, p. 164.

2 Pantagruel, III. 33, He, he, he, monsieur il ne falloit rien. Grand mercy
toutesfois. s Vianey, p. 232. * CEuvres, p. 68.


Poetry differs from prose by its use of the imaginative
faculty — this was the doctrine of Ronsard and his disciples,
and in this they were right and Malherbe was utterly wrong.
They were also right in holding that poetry is the offspring
of genius and inspiration, but when they went on to despise
labour and polish and other signs of careful workmanship, they
were wrong and Malherbe was right. Had Malherbe con-
descended to give an articulate expression to his views he
would have said, as Boileau said later,

Soyez-vous a vous-meme un severe critique 1 .

The great fault of the Pleiad school from Ronsard to Regnier
was, as we have seen, its lack of self-criticism. The one claim
of Malherbe — and it is a large one — to the gratitude of his
countrymen is that he was the first French critic.

Note on the date of Regnier" s earliest satire.

The Second satire, which is almost certainly the first in
point of date, was written after Regnier had spent ten years
in the service of the Cardinal de Joyeuse. Now Brossette in
his commentary says that he entered that service in 1583,
when he was twenty years old. This is clearly wrong, for he
was born in 1573, and later writers have supposed that
Brossette meant 1593. But Brossette's statement is un-
supported by any evidence, and consequently M. Courbet
conjectures that Regnier really entered the Cardinal's service
in 1587, just after the Cardinal was appointed to the dignity
of Protector of France at Rome. Regnier himself says :

C'est done pourquoy si ieune abandonnant la France
Tallay vif de courage, et tout chaud d'esperance
En la cour d'vn Prelat, qu'auecq' mille dangers
I'ay suiuy courtisan aux pais estrangers.

Sat. 11. (CEin'res, p. 16).

1- Uart poi-tiqtte, I. The whole of the latter part of this first chant is practically
a criticism of the workmanship of Ronsard's school.



Now though sijeune is a somewhat vague term and may
fairly apply to any age under eighteen, that of thirteen is
certainly very young for an appointment of this sort. But a
stronger objection to M. Courbet's date is that it puts the
Second satire as early as 1597, while none of the other satires,
except possibly the Third and the Seventh, were written
before 1603. There are two possible dates for the Third,
1598 and 1603, and of these the latter is preferable because it
is too mature to be the work of a young man of five and
twenty. There is nothing to help us to the date of the
Seventh except its similarity in tone to the Third. Supposing
then the Second satire to have been written in 1597, it means
that Regnier wrote only two satires, or at the most three, in a
period of six years, and that he began to write at the age of
twenty-four, an early age for a kind of writing which psquinjs
considerable knowledge of human nature. I should therefore
conjecture that Regnier entered the service of Joyeuse in the
first half of 1591 and accompanied him first to Spain and then
to Italy. The Second satire would then have been written in



Les premieres (Euvres de M. Regnier, 1608 (contains satires i — ix and
xii : see Cat. Ruble No. 216 ; there are also copies in the Bib. Nat. and the
Arsenal library) ; Les Satyres du Sieur Regnier, Reueues iS~= augmenties de
nouueau, 1609 (x and xi added, Brit. Mus.) ; same title, 1612 (xiii, Macette
added) ; same title, 161 3 (contains satires i — xvii and other pieces, see Le
Petit p. 1 10) ; Les Satyres et autres asuvres [Leyden, Elsevier] 1642;
same title, Leyden, J. &. D. Elsevier, 1652 ; Les Satyres de Regnier avec
des remarques (ed. C. Brossette), London, 4to. 1729. The 4to edition,
published by Tonson in 1733 under the title of Satyres et autres eeuvres de
Regnier, accompagnces de remarques historiques, is an impudent counter-
feit of the preceding by the Abbe" Lenglet du Fresnoy.

(Euvres completes, ed. Viollet le Due, 1822 ; ed. E. Courbet, 1869 ; 2nd
ed. 1875 (with a life and a full history of the text) ; ed. L. Lacour, 1876.

All the above editions, except the last, represent successive stages of
the text. In that of 1609 satires x and xi are very incorrectly printed, as


is satire xv. in the edition of 1613. Certain improvements in the text,
supplementing those introduced by M. Courbet, have been suggested by
R. Dezeimeris, Lemons nouvelles et remarqiies sur le texte de divers
auteurs, Bordeaux, 1876, and Corrections et remarques sur le texte de
divers auteurs, ib. 1880 ; by A. Benoist, Notes sur le texte de Regnier in
Annates de la Faculte dcs Lettres de Bordeaux, pp. 240 — 249, 1879; ar) d
by J. Yianey, Mathurin Regnier, pp. 272 — 287, 1896.


M. Vianey's book, just mentioned, is by far the most important. See
also C.-A. Sainte-Beuve, Tableau, pp. i3off. (the 1842 edition has a separate
chapter on Regnier and Andre Che"nier, previously published in vol. I. of
Portraits Litteraires and written in 1829). F. Robiou, Essai sur Phistoire
de la litterature et des itioeurs penda7it la preiniere moitie du xvii e siecle,
pp. 189 — 204, 1858. C. Lenient, La Satire en Fra?ice au xvi e siecle, I.
120 — h^j 1859. H. Cherrier, Bibliog7'aphie de M. Regnier, 1884. E.
Faguet in Rev. des cours et con/. 1895.



WE have seen how in the reign of Henry II Italian in-
fluences starting from the encouragement given by Francis I
to Italian artists and men of letters thoroughly permeated
French art and literature. As a consequence some writers,
who regard the Renaissance as a peculiarly Italian product,
speak of the reign of Henry II as the period in which the
French Renaissance reached its zenith. To some extent this
is true. Under some aspects the reign of Francis I, especially
from the point of view of literature, may be considered as the
preparation for the Renaissance rather than as the Renais-
sance itself, or at any rate as the dawn of the Renaissance
rather than as its full noontide. For we find that none of
the writers of that reign, neither Marot nor Rabelais nor
Margaret of Navarre, have altogether shaken themselves free
from mediaeval traditions. But when we come to compare the
two periods, the national period and the Italian period, we see
that the advantage is not altogether on the side of the latter.
If the later literature is more artistic, it is also more conscious
of its art. It is less robust, less spontaneous. Elegance takes
the place of energy, culture of vitality.

Further if Ronsard and Du Bellay have a more serious
conception of art, Rabelais and Margaret of Navarre have
a more serious conception of life. This is due in a
measure to the influence of that religious movement which
was itself a product of the Renaissance spirit. With that


movement no one at the outset shewed greater sympathy
than Margaret of Navarre, and though she never separated
herself from the Church of her ancestors, the strong impression
which the new doctrines made upon her quickened the
spiritual side of her deeply religious nature. The same
sympathy with the new doctrines finds a cautious expression
in Rabelais's Gargantua, and though the Utopian dream with
which the book concludes warns us how little its author was
likely to accept the form in which French Protestantism was
on the eve of being dogmatised by Calvin, the influence of the
religious controversy may be traced in the more philosophic
character of the Third book. Marot who became a Pro-
testant was a less serious thinker than either Margaret or
Rabelais who remained Catholics, but though his pleasure-
loving nature found its most complete expression in rondeaitx
and familiar epistles and other lighter forms of verse, some of
his less-known and less successful poems manifest a serious
and religious spirit.

During the last ten years of his reign Francis I shewed
increasing hostility to the new religious doctrines. The
attitude of his successor was even more uncompromising ; on
that point alone his three advisers, Diane de Poitiers, the
Constable de Montmorency, and the Cardinal de Lorraine
were of the same mind. It followed that the poets of the
Pleiad, who depended largely on Court favour, shared none
of the Protestant sympathies of the older generation. Du
Bellay might satirise the Roman curia, Ronsard might call
attention to the shortcomings of the French clergy, but they
could not be other than loyal supporters of a Church of which
they were beneficiaries. At heart their religion, as of most of
their fellow-poets, was a strange compound of Christianity
and paganism, a Christianity which was mainly formal and
ceremonial, a paganism shorn of its nobler ideals and more
spiritual aspirations. To enjoy life in its most beautiful
forms, whether of art or of nature, was the whole sum of their

Such being the difference in character between these two
phases of the French Renaissance, the literature of the one


being hardy and native, of the other beautiful and exotic, it
was of the greatest advantage to the successful developement
of French literature that the Italian phase was preceded by
the national one. When the Pleiad issued their manifesto,
the foundations of a great national literature had already
been laid, and it was upon these foundations, however much
they might ignore them, that they themselves built. There
was no such break of continuity as they pretended in
French literature. They only carried out with a bolder
hand and in a more conscious spirit what their prede-
cessors had begun. Indeed when their day was over and
their successor Malherbe treated them with the same con-
tumely with which they had treated Marot, their whole work
might have perished had it not rested upon the foundations
which Marot and Rabelais and Margaret of Navarre had laid.
Happily it did not, and the lesson which they taught to their
countrymen was never unlearnt. This lesson was the value
of style.

But, as we have seen, even before the advent of Malherbe
a reaction began to set in not merely against the poetry of
the Pleiad but against the whole Italian influence. After the
death of Charles IX and the retirement of Ronsard from the
Court (1574) the Pleiad divided into two streams, the one
represented by the Protestant provincial, Du Bartas, whose
poetry is a protest against the paganism and frivolity of the
court poets, and the other by the Catholic courtier, Desportes,
who, while he pillages the Italians even more sedulously than
his predecessors, returns in his less imitative productions to
the lighter and more realistic vein of Marot. In his con-
temporaries Passerat and Durant this tendency is even more
strongly marked. The attack upon Italian influences was
further enforced by the two treatises which Henri Estienne
published in 1579 and 1580 in defence of the national
language. Lastly the nameless abominations and grotesque
superstitions of the court of Henry III intensified the dislike
of all Italian ideas and fashions.

This reaction against Italian influence affected also the
whole attitude of thought towards the Renaissance. The


unhappy condition of the country, the long religious warfare,
the impotent government, inspired all thoughtful men with
a sense of disillusion. The promise of the Renaissance
had apparently died away in bloodshed and anarchy. The
golden age of learning which Gargantua had hailed with
such eloquent enthusiasm had made the world neither better
nor wiser.

Montaigne is too original a thinker to be really typical of
the thought of his time, but seeing that he is the greatest
name of this third and last phase of the French Renaissance
it is pertinent to consider his attitude towards the Renaissance
generally. Like his whole view of life it was complex, and
even inconsistent. He was an enthusiastic admirer and
constant reader of classical literature, but unlike the ardent
humanists of the first half of the century he knew Greek
imperfectly and preferred to read Greek authors in Latin or
French translations. He is not altogether in favour of the
humanistic education of his day. " Greek and Latin," he says,
"are fine accomplishments, but we pay too dearly for them."
He accepts unquestioned any statement of fact by a classical
writer, but he is by no means a slave to their opinions.
Similarly with regard to Italian literature. His library was
full of Italian books, and he was a great admirer of the
Italian epistolary writers, and a reader of Guicciardini and
the other Italian historians. But he accuses those of
barbarous stupidity who compare Ariosto with Virgil, and he
has a higher opinion of the French poets of his own day,
especially of Ronsard and Du Bellay, whom he finds in certain
respects " not far short of the ancient perfection."

Montaigne, as we know, did not mind being inconsistent,
but we may find a certain consistency in his attitude towards
the Renaissance by describing it as the developement to their
logical results of its two fundamental principles, individualism
and the right of free inquiry. If the individual is to have free
play for his actions and aspirations, if he is to be a law unto
himself, it becomes of the highest importance that he should
know himself. If he is to enjoy life he must know how to
live, and if this enjoyment is not to be overshadowed by the



constant fear of death he must know how to die 1 . But this
study of man and human nature which Montaigne advocated
as the basis of all education and all philosophy implies a
seriousness of purpose and a constancy of aim quite contrary
to the restless craving after pleasure and excitement which is
so characteristic of the Renaissance. Thus this very principle
of the Renaissance became in Montaigne's hands a corrective
of the excess to which it had been carried.

So with regard to the right of free inquiry. The earlier
French humanists were dazzled by the vision of a world in
which this right was fully recognised, and were too much
engrossed in the exploration of its treasures to think of criti-
cising it. They paid almost the same reverence to classical
antiquity as their forefathers had paid to the Church. The first
Frenchman who seriously questioned its authority was Pierre
Ramus. Montaigne, though his criticism of the ancient
writers was less bold than that of Ramus, was far more
comprehensive in his application of the right of free inquiry.
He not only questioned by the light of common sense most
existing institutions and opinions, but he attacked the very
basis of all knowledge. However incomplete and inconsistent
his scepticism may have been, it at any rate inspired him,
even in his most hopeful moments, with an exceedingly
modest estimate of human virtue and wisdom. The Essays,
it is true, end on a note of tranquil serenity, which reminds
one of Shakespeare's Tempest, but it is far removed from the
buoyant optimism of the Abbey of Thelema and the oracle of
the Bottle. It tells us that the Renaissance day is drawing
to its close.

Thus the three periods into which this history has been
divided roughly represent three distinct phases not only of
French Renaissance literature but of the Renaissance itself.
But these phases share in common certain characteristics
which impress upon the whole literature a persistent and well-
defined character. In the first place it is strongly individual-

1 It will be recollected that the title of Montaigne's first important essay
(i. 19) is, To be a philosopher is to learn how to die.


istic. The definition of literature as the expression of society
is obviously an incomplete one, but of no body of literature is
it more incomplete than of that which we are now considering.
There is hardly a work of the sixteenth century, however im-
personal in form, which is not full of information as to the life
and character of the writer. Pantagruel abounds in personal
reminiscences ; the tales of the Heptameron profess to be all
within the experience of the royal authoress or her immediate
circle ; Marot is a delightful egoist ; Du Bellay's poetry
charms us by its intimate note; many of Ronsard's poems
contain long autobiographical passages ; autobiography has
invaded D'Aubigne's History and inspired him with the
finest episode in Les Tragiqucs ; in no period of French
literature has the harvest of personal memoirs been more
abundant or more remarkable. Thus Montaigne in making
himself the centre of his book was only carrying out in a
more thorough and more conscious fashion the practice of
nearly every writer of the sixteenth century.

Le sot projet de se peindre says Pascal ; but the world is
not of his opinion. The world likes self-portraiture, provided
only that it is sincere and without pose. Now this is em-
phatically the case with the writers of our period; with the
single exception of Margaret of Valois they are absolutely
sincere and unaffected. Their books are livres dc bonne foi,
and they talk about themselves, not because they think
they are interesting to others, but because they are supremely
interested in themselves. The result is that whatever they
write has at least the merit of freshness and enthusiasm.
Even the most imitative work of the Pleiad catches from
the enthusiasm of the writers a breath of life and originality
often wanting to their models.

Now this keen enjoyment of life on the part of the
Renaissance writers arises in part from the strength of their
sensuous impressions. Hence gusto, which is the recognised
name in literature and art for the expression of strong
sensuous impressions, is a quality of frequent occurrence in
Renaissance literature. The most notable example is Rabelais,
who, according to Hazlitt in his well-known essay on Gusto,


has, with Boccaccio, more of it than any other prose writer.
But it is to be found also, if in a less degree, in Margaret of
Navarre and Montaigne, in Brantome and Monluc, in Henri
Estienne and D'Aubigne. In all of these it often takes the
form of extraordinary vividness of presentment so that scenes
and events stand out on their canvas in brilliant colour and

Gusto implies strong rather than deep emotion. Hence
it is associated, as a rule, with a lively rather than with a
penetrative imagination. This is the case with the writers
of the French Renaissance. Their imagination plays with
the surface of things and does not penetrate to the
depths. It is illustrative rather than creative. The creative
writers of the first half of the sixteenth century, Rabelais,
Margaret of Navarre, and Des Periers, have no more im-
agination than is absolutely necessary for all artistic creation.
Rabelais is the least imaginative of the great creative
writers of the world. On the other hand, it was the great
achievement of the Pleiad that they introduced imagination
into poetic style, that they recognised it to be an indispens-
able quality of the language of poetry. And their influence
affected also the language of prose. The style of Amyot and
of Montaigne is essentially an imaginative style. Thus down
to the advent of Malherbe imagination becomes an unfailing
characteristic of prose and verse alike.

These then are the great qualities of French Renaissance
literature, individuality, vividness, imagination. But if it is
great on the human side, it is weak on the artistic side. If
the writers have in full measure the energy, the sincerity, and
the strong feeling which are necessary for the genesis of a
work of art, they lack the sense of form which is required
to perfect the artistic conception. It is not too much to
say that no work of any considerable length by any writer of
the French Renaissance is constructed on a preconceived
plan. They write as their mood prompts them, they give
rein to their inspiration and become its servant instead
of its master. It is needless to multiply instances. Mon-
taigne alone will suffice. For Montaigne had the artistic


temperament in a strong degree, and in his later essays at
any rate he shews true artistic care and affection for his
work. Yet his essays are formless, and this very formlessness
is one of their charms. It is true that we may detect a central
idea in even the most rambling of his vagabondages and that
some of his admirers have maintained that the apparent
disorder of his writing veils without wholly concealing a
higher order 1 . But this theory does not explain the additions

Online LibraryArthur Augustus TilleyThe literature of the French renaissance (Volume 2) → online text (page 29 of 34)