Arthur Augustus Tilley.

The literature of the French renaissance (Volume 2) online

. (page 30 of 34)
Online LibraryArthur Augustus TilleyThe literature of the French renaissance (Volume 2) → online text (page 30 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

which Montaigne was in the habit of making to his essays
after their publication. For though an accomplished artist
may go on putting fresh touches to his work long after it is
practically finished, he will not make changes in detail which
obviously interfere with its unity.

The artistic execution of the Renaissance writers is
superior to their artistic conception, but it is the execution
of gifted amateurs rather than of trained artists. For all
their admiration for Greek poetry, the Pleiad failed to
learn from their masters the lessons of self-restraint and
moderation, of patient and accurate workmanship.

Vingt fois sur le metier remettez votre ouvrage,
Polissez-le sans cesse, et le repolissez,
Ajoutez quelquefois, et souvent effacez.

This advice of Boileau's was wholly alien to the spirit and
practice of most of the writers of the sixteenth century.
Hence, except in quite short pieces, their work is seldom, if
ever, perfect in execution throughout, and it may be said of
all of them, even of Rabelais and Montaigne, that they are
better to read in than to read continuously. This lack of the
critical habit in literature was in conformity with the general
spirit of the age, but it was partly due to the absence of a
central standard either in language or in taste.

We have seen that during the reigns of Francis I and
Henry II such a standard was in a measure furnished by the
Court and that we can trace its influence, not only in the

1 See especially E. Ruel, op. cit. c. iii {Les "essais" sont une auvre (far/), and
pp. 374 ff. where he gives an analysis of the essay entitled Des caches; see also
ante, pp. 172 f.



poetry of Marot and Saint-Gelais and the Pleiad school, but
in the French versions of Amadis and the Decameron, and
even in the more famous translations made by Amyot. But a
Court standard is not the same thing as a national standard,
for like that of every small coterie it is liable to be debased
by the alloys of passing fashion. Thus under Henry II
Italian influences began, as we have seen, to invade alike
taste and language, increasing in force under the rule of
Catharine de' Medici till exaggeration brought the in-
evitable reaction. Moreover the unity of the kingdom,
which had been steadily growing during the reigns of
Francis I and his son, received a severe check from the wars
of religion. For the next thirty years not only was France
divided into two camps, but the great nobles, who had been
gradually coming to recognise the central authority of the
Crown, began once more to assert their independence and to
make the public troubles a pretext for personal insubordi-

These centrifugal forces acted inevitably on literature.
By far the most important of the literary work that was
produced in France during the last twenty years of the six-
teenth century was written far away from the Court or the
capital. The most productive quarter was Gascon}-, where
Montaigne, Monluc, and Brantome, each in the retreat of his
own chateau, wrote ostensibly to beguile their leisure and at
any rate with no idea of conformity to a central standard.
To the same province belonged Pierre de Brach and his
better-known friend Du Bartas, whose poetry is a notable
instance of the evil effects of provincialism on literature. The
works of most of these Gascon writers were published at
Bordeaux, which with its flourishing College of Guyenne
served as the intellectual centre of the whole South-western
district of France.

Another such centre was Poitiers, where between the years
1550 and 1560 an offshoot of the Pleiad was formed under the
leadership of Jacques Tahureau. Further to the x\orth we
find Noel du Fail publishing at the Breton capital, Rennes,
work of which the chief interest lies in its strong local flavour.


Of Normandy, with its two centres, Rouen and the university-
town of Caen, the chief representative during our period is
Vauquelin de la Fresnaye, who resided at Caen, but Rouen
also served as a literary capital for the neighbouring province
of Maine, and it was at Rouen that the majority of the
editions of Garnier's plays were published. But even during
this period Norman aspirants to literary fame began to turn
their steps to Paris ; Bertaut and Du Perron were heralds of
Malherbe, the sworn enemy of provincialism.

Nothing like the same literary activity was shewn in the
Eastern half of France. Neither Reims, the capital of
Champagne, nor Dijon, the capital of Burgundy, were of any
importance in the literary world, and if Larivey, as it is
possible, wrote his comedies at Troyes, they were published
at Paris. Even Lyons, which during the reign of Francis I
had been second only to Paris as a literary and intellectual
centre, was throughout the second half of the sixteenth
century illustrated by no name except that of Louise Labe,
whose tiny volume was printed there at the very beginning of
that period. Half-way between Lyons and the sea, among
the hills to the west of the Rhone valley, Olivier de Serres
wrote his great treatise on Agriculture.

A notable exception to the general lack of self-criticism is
furnished by Amyot, who in every line reveals the conscien-
tious and critical artist. He was in consequence the one prose
author of the sixteenth century who was accepted unchallenged
by the seventeenth, a fact which suggests a brief retrospect of
the developement of French prose during our period. At the
close of the first half of the century the two great masters of
French prose were Rabelais and Calvin, but they were
masters in very different styles. Rabelais is picturesque and
imaginative, Calvin abstract and logical. Calvin writes as a
thinker, Rabelais as an artist. Rabelais therefore uses freely
all the constructions of the older language which make
for picturesqueness or harmony, such as the omission of the
article and the pronoun, the use of the infinitive as a
substantive, ellipse, and inversion. His use of the last for
the sake of a harmonious cadence, even at the expense of


lucidity, is very noticeable, and becomes more daring with
advancing years. It must be remembered that these con-
structions were the heritage of mediaeval French from Latin,
and that the revived study of Latin would naturally tend to
continue them in favour with scholars like Rabelais. Still
more marked was the influence of Latin upon syntax, and
Rabelais's sentences are often purely Latin in construction.

Calvin, starting from the same point as Rabelais, was led
by different aims to a different goal. His chief object being
to convince, he gradually freed himself from archaisms and
Latinisms, which, however much they might contribute to the
picturesqueness and harmony of the sentence, were hindrances
to its lucidity. In so doing he was following partly the
natural bent of his logical mind, partly the prevailing trend
of the language. Even before Rabelais's death we find
Joachim du Bellay, in the Deffoice, warning the young poet
not to fall into the common vice of omitting the article, a
vice by the way from which he himself is not altogether free.
Fifteen years later Ronsard, in the Abrege de I'art poetiquc
(1565), repeats the injunction, coupling with it another, not to
omit the personal pronoun. In the second preface to the
Franciade, written after 1572, he pronounces strongly against
inversion, even in poetry. The other archaisms noticed above
lingered somewhat longer. The use of the infinitive as a
substantive is practised even by Protestant writers, such as
La Noue and Du Plessis-Mornay. Another Protestant, Henri
Estienne, though, like his co-religionists, he belongs on the
whole to the progressive school, still clings in some matters to
the older ways. But La Noue and Estienne, as well as
another Protestant, D'Aubigne, happened to be close students
of Rabelais, whose influence, there can be little doubt, did
something to stay the decay of the old picturesque forms.

It is Amyot who best marks the change that was coming
over French prose. Though his style retains to the last the
picturesque and imaginative character of the older school, he
gradually abandons such archaisms as inversion and the
omission of the article and the pronoun. But the great
service that he rendered to French prose was the improve-


ment of the period. In the later-written of his Lives, which
were completed in 1559, his periods, though still somewhat
long, are constructed with considerable art. They are well-
balanced, harmonious, and above all thoroughly French in
construction. Finally, as we have seen, in his treatise on
rhetoric, written after the accession of Henry III, he declares
himself in favour of a shorter period, and his practice corre-
sponds to his precept.

His greatest pupil was Montaigne, who wrote his first
considerable and really characteristic essay, the nineteenth
of the first book, That philosophy is to know how to die, in the
year of the publication of the (Euvres morales. Like his
master he belongs to the picturesque and imaginative school,
but like him he has moved with the times, and even in the
earliest specimen that we have of his writing, the letter to his
father on the death of La Boetie (1563), there is hardly an
inversion or an omission of an article or a pronoun. His trans-
lation of Raymond de Sebonde is written in a clear though
undistinguished style. But the " incomparable " Essays,
however superior to Amyot's work in brilliancy and genius,
are inferior as models of French prose. The language is less
pure and less precise than Amyot's, the construction of his
periods less orderly and harmonious. For Montaigne's aim
was to write "as a man and not as an author," to fit his style
to the ever-changing facets of his thought. He is therefore
careless of form and harmony. He sacrifices everything, even
lucidity, to the truth of the impression.

But meanwhile the general trend of French prose was in
the direction of restraint and logic. With the better writers
sentences became shorter and less involved, their use of
words more precise, and their sense of harmony more sure.
There was still, however, much to learn, how much may be
judged from the comparison already made between the prose
of Du Vair and Du Perron and that of Jean Guez de Balzac
thirty years later. But the lessons of Rabelais and Montaigne
were not lost ; when after another thirty years Pascal created
modern French prose, he united the variety of Rabelais with
the sincerity of Montaigne.

t. 11. 21


This change in the character of French prose from disorder
to order, from the long period to the short one, from the sway
of imagination to the sway of reason, is exactly paralleled in
our own literature, though with us it took place somewhat
later, chiefly between the years 1660 and 1680. In fact the
literature of the English Renaissance followed more or less
the same course as that of the French. The publication of
Tottel's Miscellany in 1557 corresponds to that of Marot's
poems in 1532, The SJiepheards Calendar of 1579 to Ronsard's
Odes of 1550, and though there is no landmark in the history
of English poetry so sharply defined as the arrival of Malherbe
at Paris in 1605, the beginning of our age of reason is roughly
indicated by the appearance of Denham's Cooper's Hill in
1642, and of Waller's poems in 1645.

English prose was slower of developement than English
poetry, for it produced nothing comparable to the work of
Rabelais until the appearance of Hooker's Ecclesiastical
Polity in 1594, more than forty years after the great French-
man's death. After that came Bacon, Ben Jonson, Burton,
and the splendid but unequal writers of the Caroline age.
But none of them, unless it be Bacon, can be named with
Rabelais and Montaigne. For these two are not only great
artists in prose but they are, like Shakespeare, among the
greatest names of literature ; their message is for all time
and to all the world. To them we must add not only Calvin
and Amyot, but a number of lesser prose-writers whose work,
if less mature than the best poetry of the Pleiad, is superior
to it in energy and intellectual power. Thus while the
English Renaissance is strongest on the poetic side, while
there is nothing in France to match the high poetic achieve-
ment of the Fairy Queen, the melody and passion of our
songs and lyrics, the splendour of our drama, the French
Renaissance is strongest on the side of prose, and in three
departments of it, memoir-writing, the short story, and prose-
satire, shews a decided superiority.

The number and excellence of the memoirs which were
produced in France during the last quarter of the sixteenth
century has already been sufficiently pointed out. Although


the second half of the century produced no collection of tales
equal to those of Margaret of Navarre and Desperiers, several
writers of this period possessed considerable skill in telling
a story, such as Noel du Fail, Henri Estienne and D'Aubigne,
and not a few works owed their popularity to the numerous
short stories which they contained. In nearly all of them the
spirit of satire was strong, but satire took many other forms.
Its highest achievement in prose was the Satire Menippee,
and in verse it produced some of the finest examples of
French Renaissance literature, Regnier's Macette with portions
of his other satires, the finest passages in D'Aubigne's Les
Tragiques, and the satirical sonnets of Du Bellay's Regrets.
Between these and the rough and artificial work of Donne,
Hall, and Marston there is no comparison.

But underlying these differences, due to national tempera-
ment, between the Renaissance literatures of France and
England there is a very considerable likeness. In both we
find the same energy and freshness, the same enjoyment of
life, the same imaginative glow, the same carelessness with
regard to execution and form. On the other hand we note
with something of surprise a great dissimilarity between the
Renaissance literature of France and that of her classical age.
At first sight they seem to have hardly a single characteristic
in common. Where in the sixteenth century, except in
Calvin, is the love of order, the lucidity, and the almost
superstitious regard for logic that we have come to regard as
innate qualities of the French nation ? What becomes of
Taine's theory of fixed racial characteristics ?

It is Taine himself who furnishes the clue to the answer.
In his remarkable essay on M. Troplong et M. de MontaUm-
bert 1 , in which he attributes the difference that has always
existed between the government of England and that of France
partly to political circumstances and partly to natural moral
conditions, he describes his own countrymen as une race ligere
et sociable, which in all ages has possessed " the gift of being
clear and agreeable, the art of making itself understood, and

1 Essais de critique et cThistoire (7th ed. 1896), pp. ifxj IT.

21 — 2


of being listened to." It has also, he says, the analytical
faculty 1 . The talent for agreeable talk and the talent for
analysis — these then may be regarded as qualities more or less
innate in the French race, and to one or the other of them
may be traced those features of French Renaissance literature
which distinguish it from that of this country, namely, its
success in the conte, in satire, and in memoirs.

But the French people are a product of many races,
Iberians, Ligurians, Celts, Romans, Franks, Burgundians,
Visigoths, and these races have been moulded by a con-
siderable diversity of climates. We must therefore be
prepared to find much diversity of characteristics alike in the
people and in the literature. Moreover the literature of a
nation is always more or less liable to be influenced by the
second of Taine's factors, the environment. Thus we have
seen that the poetry alike of Marot and of the Pleiad was
influenced by the courtly atmosphere in which it was
nourished, that the close connexion of France with Italy,
begun by war and kept alive by marriage ties and intellectual
intercourse, ended by Italianising French poetry, and that the
long civil war which divided and desolated the kingdom and
finally almost brought it under the yoke of Spain in the end
awakened a renewed sense of national existence and national
honour, and so implanted a stouter fibre in the literature.

But after all the strongest collective influence was that of
the " moment." It was the mighty irresistible impulse of the
Renaissance which gave the literature its vigour, its freshness,
its spontaneity ; it was the feeling of emancipation from
mediaeval swaddling-clothes which led men to give free
utterance to whatever stirred their emotions or stimulated
their intellect ; it was the thirst for personal glory and
posthumous fame which urged them to immortalise themselves
in undying verse or at least to leave for posterity a record
of their own lives. It is this influence of a great spiritual
and intellectual movement predominating over racial charac-
teristics and political environment which justifies the claim

1 Essais de critique et d'histoire (7th ed. 1896), pp. 315, 317 and 321.


of this literature to the distinctive name of the literature of
the French Renaissance.

One of the chief forces in which this movement found
expression was humanism. Of its influence on the literature
we have had abundant evidence in these pages. Many of the
works noticed are saturated to pedantry with classical quota-
tions and classical allusions. There is hardly a writer who
has not at least a tincture of classical learning. Even Pare
and Palissy, who knew neither Greek nor Latin, had a second-
hand acquaintance with some classical authors. Even the
rough soldier, Monluc, called his memoirs Commentaries, after
the example of Julius Caesar. But on the other hand, in spite
of this cult of antiquity, in spite of the superstitious regard
that was paid to the classical ideal in thought and art, and
even in morals, the greater part of the literature is wholly
unclassical in form. And this is not only the case with the
writings of the early Renaissance, with Pantagruel and the
Heptameron ; but even after the lesson had been learnt in
Dorat's lecture-room that the great classical writers were
deserving of study not only for their learning and wisdom
and for the stimulus they gave to liberty of thought, but
for their art, their devotion to form and style, their patient
workmanship, even then the lesson was learnt imperfectly.

Ronsard, indeed, and Du Bellay in many of their sonnets
and shorter lyrics have caught something of classical restraint
and classical felicity of phrase, and the Satire Mc'nippee,
thoroughly national though it is in sentiment, is classical
in its adherence to a carefully planned design. But what
can be more unclassical in form than Montaigne's Essays,
or the memoirs of Brantome or Monluc, or Du Bartas's
Semaine, or D'Aubigne's Les Tragiques and Histoire Uni-
verselle ? Even Regnier, writing satires more or less after
the pattern of Horace, has learnt from his model no lessons
of artistic conception or artistic construction.

This failure to realise the classical ideal of literary art
was due to the lack of the critical spirit. To create this
spirit was the work of Malherbe. And when Malhcrbe's


work had been perfected by Pascal and Boileau French litera-
ture became at once national in spirit and classical in form.
But to trace the history of this developement, to investigate
the various causes which made French literature national
instead of provincial, social instead of individualistic, rational
instead of imaginative, lies beyond the scope of the present

The authorship of the Discours merveilleux.

The latest event mentioned in the Discours merveilleux is the
confirmation of Catharine as regent by the new king Henry III.
The letters-patent containing this confirmation are dated from
Cracow June 15, 1574, and cannot well have reached Paris before
July 1, for Catharine's messenger announcing the death of Charles IX,
which took place on May 30, reached Cracow on June 15. The
writing of the pamphlet must, therefore, have been completed early
in July, and it was probably printed and circulated soon afterwards.
Pierre de l'Estoile notes in his journal between September 20 and
October 1 : En ce temps la Vie de la Reine-Mere imprimke court
partoat. Les cours de Lyon en sont pleines (1. 27).

But the earliest known edition bears the date of 1575. It has
164 pp. (sig. a 8 — k 8 1 2 ) and is carelessly printed on fairly good paper.
There is no printer's name or place of printing, but L'Estoile's
remark suggests either Lyons or Geneva. The British Museum has
also a copy of another edition dated 1575. It is printed in much
smaller type than the preceding and has 96 pages (sig. A 8 — F").

In 1576 appeared a true second edition, plus correcte, mieux dis-
posee que la premiere, et augmentee de quelques partictilaritez. Collation :
a 8 — g 8 i 4 k 2 ; one leaf not numbered + 121 pp. numbered in to cxxin
+ one page blank. Without printer's name or place of printing (a
copy in my possession). Among the additions are a number of
couplets of a sententious character, many of which are translated
from Greek authors. An instance of its greater correctness is that
the names of La Mole and Coconnas are now spelt correctly,
whereas in the 1575 edition of 164 pp. we find La Maule, and
variously Couconnax, Coconnace, or Coconnaz. A third edition.
published in 1578, reproduced the text of 1576. (See Lelong, 2nd
ed. 11. 649.) But in an edition published in 1643 many of the


couplets are omitted, and this text was reproduced in 1663 in an
edition which is generally to be found bound up with the Recueil de
diverses pieces servans d Vhistoire de Henry III, published at Cologne
[Brussels] in 1660.

The latest suggestion as to the authorship is that of M. Clement
in his Henri Estienne et son ceuvre franfaise, 1899. He thinks that
the joint authors were Innocent Gentillet, the author of the Anti-
Machiavel, and Estienne, the latter's special contribution being the
prologue and the more satirical parts. I have already stated the
fatal objections to Estienne's authorship, and they are hardly lessened
by supposing that he had a partner. In supporting Gentillet's claim
M. Cle'ment lays stress on the sententious couplets, pointing out that
similar ones occur in the Anti-Machiavel, but this argument will not
avail against the fact that whereas Gentillet in the Anli-MacAiavel
correctly speaks of the favourite of Brunhild as Protadius, the author
of the Discours merveilleux calls him Proclaide 1 .

M. Weiss, in reviewing Clement's book {Bull. Prot. fran$ais xlix.),
while rejecting his view as to the authorship, suggests La Planche
or Hotman. But the style of La Planche is more distinctly archaic
than that of the Discours, while the mistake as to the name of
Brunhild's favourite precludes a competent historian like Hotman,
who, in fact, gives the name correctly in the Franco-gallia. More-
over, in 1574 he was engaged in writing the De furoribics gallicis.

1 The name Proclaide is doubtless derived from the Grandes chroniques or
Annates de France in some form or other. It appears in Belleforest, whose
arrangement of the Grandes chroniques appeared in 1573, and to whom the
author of the Discours merveilleux refers as Un certain brouillou nomme Belle-
forest. Du Haillan, who relied on Paulus Aemilius more than on the Grandes
chroniques, gives the name as Protade or Proclade.


The genesis of the Satire M£nipp£e.

I. BibliograpJiy of the more important early editions.

i. La vertv dv Catholicon d'Espagne: Auec vn Abrege de
la tenue des Estats de Paris convoquez au X de Febvrier 1593 par les
chefs de la Ligue, tire des memoires de Mademoiselle de la Lande,
alias la Bayonnoise, et des secrettes confabulations d'elle et du pere
Commelaid. m.d. xciiii.

Collation, A 4 — Y 4 ; 88 11., all numbered except the title-page;
on 1. 2 v°. is a woodcut of a charlatan playing on a lute.

Contains at the end seventeen pieces of verse.

Bib. Nat.

This is the only edition numbered by leaves instead of pages,
and the only one which contains no more than seventeen pieces of
verse. Read's text follows this edition.

2. Satyre Menippee de la vertu du Catholicon d'Espagne et
de la tenue des Estatz de Paris, 1594.

Online LibraryArthur Augustus TilleyThe literature of the French renaissance (Volume 2) → online text (page 30 of 34)