Arthur Augustus Tilley.

The literature of the French renaissance (Volume 2) online

. (page 6 of 34)
Online LibraryArthur Augustus TilleyThe literature of the French renaissance (Volume 2) → online text (page 6 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Tournons ailleurs nos pas.
Mais peut-il estre vray que je le veuille faire?

Non, je ne le veux pas 1 .

Another celebrated one is O Nuict ! jalouse Nuict, contre
moy conjuree, imitated from Ariosto 2 .

But Desportes can also write well in a graver key. His
Prayer to Sleep* is a good example of his more elevated style,
but I prefer to quote the first four stanzas of his song on the
praise of country life, for the sake of the comparison with
Du Bartas's lines quoted above 4 :

O bien-heureux qui peut passer sa vie
Entre les siens, franc de haine et d'envie,
Parmy les champs, les forests et les bois,
Loin du tumulte et du bruit populaire,
Et qui ne vend sa liberte pour plaire
Aux passions des princes et des rois !

II n'a soucy d'une chose incertaine,
II ne se paist d'une esperance vaine,
Nulle faveur ne le va decevant,
De cent fureurs il n'a Fame embrasee,
Et ne maudit sa jeunesse abusee,
Quand il ne trouve a la fin que du vant.

II ne fremist, quand la mer courroucee
Enfle ses flots, contrairement poussee
Des vens esmeus, soufiians horriblement ;
Et quand la nuict a son aise il sommeille,
Une trompette en sursaut ne l'eveille,
Pour l'envoyer du lict au monument.

L'ambition son courage n'attise ;
D'un fard trompeur son ame il ne deguise,
II ne se plaist a. violer sa foy ;
Des grands seigneurs l'oreille il n'importune,
Mais en vivant contant de sa fortune,
II est sa cour, sa faveur et son roy 5 .

The expression du lict au Monument occurs in both writers,
but in this case it is not Desportes who is the plagiarist.

1 (Euvres, p. 77.

- ib. p. 37.S. Regnier in his satires quotes unit, jalouse nuit, and the refrain
of the song to Rozette, the latter twice.

3 ib, p. 74. 4 ante, p. 40. 5 ib. p. 431.

4—2



52 THE SECOND GENERATION [CH.

His 'spiritual sonnets' are by no means his worst work.
They were written after a severe illness, following the death
of his friend Claude de l'Aubespine in 1570, and they have
the air of being inspired by a real, if temporary, outburst of
religious emotion.

Je regrette en pleurant les jours mal employez
A suivre une beaute" passagere et muable,
Sans m'eslever au ciel et laisser memorable
Maint haut et digne exemple aux esprits desvoyez.

Toi qui dans ton pur sang nos mesfaits as noyez,
Juge doux, benin pere et sauveur pitoyable,
Las ! releve, 6 Seigneur ! un pecheur miserable,
Par qui ces vrais soupirs au ciel sont envoyez.

Si ma folle jeunesse a couru mainte annee
Les fortunes d'amour, d'espoir abandonne'e,
Ou'au port, en doux repos, j'accomplisse mes jours,

Que je meure en moy-mesme, a fin qu'en toy je vive,
Que j'abhorre le monde et que, par ton secours,
La prison soit brisee oil mon ame est captive 1 .

It was not only to Italian authors that Desportes was
indebted. The famous Spanish pastoral, the Diana of Jorge
de Montemor, which, like its model the Arcadia, is written
partly in prose and partly in verse, was also laid under con-
tribution. The dialogue beginning Berger, quelle advanture
estrange, one of the Bergeries, is an almost literal translation
from it, and the two Complaintes in the same group of poems
are borrowed from the same source 2 . This debt is interesting
because the Diana was before long to have a consider-
able influence upon French literature, and, mingling with the
current of Italian pastoral drama, to produce within two
years of Desportes's death D'Urfe's famous pastoral romance
L'Astre'e.

It will be seen from the above quotations that the adroit-
ness and tact which served Desportes so well in the affairs of
life were also of service to him in his poetry. Beginning to

1 GLuvres, p. 509.

- See G. Lanson in Rev. if hist. hit. IV. 61 ff. The Diana was published
about the year 1559, and was translated into French by Nicolas Colin in 1578.
See J. Fitzmaurice-Kelly in Rev. hispanique, II. (1S95) 304 ff., and Picot, II.
no. 1748.



XVIII] THE SECOND GENERATION 53

write after the first hot enthusiasm of the new school had
begun to cool down, he turned to profit, as he turned every-
thing, the mistakes and exaggerations of his predecessors.
There is this much truth in Boileau's well-known lines, that
Desportes's style is more restrained {plus retenu) than that of
some of the original members of the Pleiad, more especially
Ba'i'f. Compared with Ronsard's it is far less imaginative, but
on the whole it is more lucid. If Desportes's language wants
the felicitous charm of really great poetry, if it has neither
the logical precision nor the grammatical accuracy which the
pedantry of a Malherbe demanded, it is clear, urbane, and
correct. In short, if the lack of strong wings prevents
Desportes from ever soaring to a high level, his tact stops
him from sinking to a low one.

Sainte-Beuve has noticed the striking resemblance between
Desporte s an d Saint-Gela is, not only in their lives, but in
their poetry.' Desportes is certainly an even more finished
specimen of a Court poet than the man who served as the
model of Du Bellay's satire, and he resembles him in his
cultivation of Italian poetry, and in his use, and sometimes
abuse, of esprit. But he was a stronger writer than Saint-
Gelais, and he had a more genuine poetical endowment.
When he is himself, and free from the influence of Italian
models, he recalls Saint-Gelais's greater contemporary IVj^arot.
For both he and Marot represent more completely than
Ronsard the regular tradition of French_pcielry. They both
have the true Frenchman's lucidity, his gaiety mixed with a
spice of malice, his good sense, his fear of ridicule. That
is why Ma rot__s,eem s in some aspects m ore modern than
Ronsard 1 , and why the best work of Desportes has a somewhat



modern air.



Desportes seems to have been fairly popular in England,
though naturally he had nothing like the vogue of the
Protestant Du Bartas. Lodge particularly affected him, and
translated, without acknowledgement, his poem on country
life, a song beginning

1 Marot, par son tour et par son style, semble avoir icrit depuis Ronsard. La
Bruyere, Les Caractires, c. i.



54 THE SECOND GENERATION [CH.

La terre naguere glacde
Est ores de vert tapisse'e,

and a sonnet from Diane, Si jc me siez a /'ombre 1 . Daniel's
debt to him has already been noticed.

The esprit which flavours Desportes's most characteristic
poems is even more strongly represented in the poetry of three
men who were frequent visitors at his house, and who were
all contributors to the Satire Menippee, jean Passera t, Gilles
Dura nte and Nicolas Rapi n. Passerat. w as born in 1534, and
published his first volume in 1559, so that as far as age goes
he might have been classed with the first generation of the
Pleiad. But his more characteristic work is of later date.
He was a considerable Latin scholar, his favourite author
being Plautus (whom he is said to have read through forty
times), and he published a commentary on Catullus, Tibullus,
and Propertius. From 1569 he lived in the house of Henri de
Mesmes, and in 1572 succeeded Ramus as Royal Professor of
Eloquence. He was a sportsman, and wrote a didactic poem
on the hound, a tennis player, at which game he lost an eye,
and a bon vivant with a red face, which malice attributed
to his love of the bottle. He was a good Pantagruelist,
and wrote a commentary on Rabelais's book, which, on his
death-bed, he unfortunately gave to the flames. Towards
the end of his life he became paralysed and blind, and
after living five years in this condition died in 1602. A
collected edition of his poems was published in the same year 2 .
The epitaph which he wrote for himself is not the worst among
them :

Jean Passerat ici sommeille

Attendant que l'Ange I'esveille :

Et croit qu'il se resveillera

Ouand la trompette sonnera.
S'il faut que maintenant en la fosse je tombe,
Qui ay tousjours aime la paix et le repos,
Afin que rien ne poise a. ma cendre, a mes os,
Amis, de mauvais vers ne charges point ma tombe 3 !

1 11. no. 3.

2 The edition of 1606 is much more complete. A small volume of 32 leaves
appeared in 1597, entitled Le premier livre des poemes.

3 Les poesies franeaises, ed. Blanchemain, 11. 175.



XVIII] THE SECOND GENERATION 55

He excels in these short pieces, and most of those in the
Satire Menippc'e are supposed to be by his hand. Among
these the description of the Politiques is a model of good-
humoured and effective irony :

Pour connoistre les Politiques,
Adherents, Fauteurs d'Heretiques,
Tant soient-ils cachez et couvers,
II ne faut que lire ces vers 1 .

Of his acknowledged poems the one Contre les reistres, the
German mercenaries of the Huguenots, is remarkable for its
vigour of expression :

Empistoles au visage noirci,

Diables du Rhin, n'approchez point d'ici 2 .

The chief merit of Passerat's style is his direct simplicity
o f language, w hich is absolutely free from the conceits affected
by Desportes. This quality shews itself in all Passerat's
work, and nowhere better than in the narrative poem called
Metamorphose d'uii hommc en oiseau 3 , a true conte in verse,
which in its happy phrasing, at once delicate and vigorous,
and its good-humoured malice points backward to Marot and
forward to La Fontaine. But he can ally this quality of
simple directness just as happily with a note of tender grace
as he can with one of vigorous abuse or delicate irony, as
for example in his two best-known poems, the villanelle and
the ode on May-day :

J'ay perdu ma tourterelle :
Est-ce point celle que j'oy?
Je veux aller apres elle.

Tu regretes ta femelle,
Helas ! aussi fai-je moy :
J'ai perdu ma tourterelle.

Si ton amour est fidelle,
Aussi est ferme ma foy,
Je veux aller apres elle.

Ta plainte se renouvelle ;
Tousjours plaindre je me doy :
J'ay perdu ma tourterelle.

1 La Satire Mcnippce, ed. Ch. Read, pp. 110 ff.
2 Les poesies franc. 1. 125. :i id. 1. 33.



56 THE SECOND GENERATION [CH.

En ne voyant plus la belle,
Plus rien de beau je ne voy ;
Je veux aller apres elle.

Mort, que tant de fois j'appelle,
Pren ce qui se donne a toy :
J'ay perdu ma tourterelle,
Je veux aller apres elle 1 .

Laissons le lit et le sommeil

Ceste journee :
Pour nous l'aurore au front vermeil

Est desja nee.
Or que le ciel est le plus gay
En ce gracieux mois de may,

Aimons, mignonne ;
Contentons nostre ardent desir :
En ce monde n'a du plaisir

Qui ne s'en donne.

Vien, belle, vien te pourmener

Dans ce bocage,
Entens les oiseaux jargonner

De leur ramage.
Mais escoute comme sur tous
Le rossignol est le plus doux,

Sans qu'il se lasse.
Oublions tout dueil, tout ennuy
Pour nous resjouyr comme luy :

Le temps se passe.

Ce vieillard, contraire aux amans,

Des aisles porte,
Et, en fuyant, nos meilleurs ans

Bien loing emporte.
Quand ride"e un jour tu seras,
Melanco'.ique, tu diras :

J'estoy peu sage,
Qui n'usoy point de la beaute
Que si tost le temps a oste

De mon visage.

Laissons ce regret et ce pleur

A la vieillesse ;
Jeunes, il faut cueillir la fleur

De la jeunesse.

1 ib. ii. 83.



XVIII] THE SECOND GENERATION 57

Or que le ciel est le plus gay,
En ce gracieux rnois de may,

Aimons, mignonne ;
Contentons nostre ardent desir :
En ce monde n'a du plaisir

Qui ne s'en donne 1 .

In reading the latter poem one does not know whether to
wonder most at the skill which is able to weave so graceful
a harmony out of so well-worn a theme, or the want of
originality which can be satisfied with such familiar expressions
as Aimons, -mignonne ; Le temps se passe ; Quand ridee un jour
tu seras ; II faut cueillir la fleur de la jeunesse. But this
repetition of well-worn ideas and phrases is characteristic of
most of the love-poetry of the second generation of the
Pleiad. We have it again in a poem of Gilles Dura jit,
Passerat's fellow-contributor to the Satire Menippee, beginning
Charlotte, si ton dme, and in his well-known poem on the
sunflower :

J'aime la belle violette,

L'ceillet et la pensee aussi ;

J'aime la rose vermeillette,

Mais surtout j'aime le soulci 2 .

Durant's poems were published in 1587 under the title of
Gayjtes amoureuses in a volume which included some imitations
from the Latin of Jean Bonnefons and a group of love poems
by the same writer, entitled Pancharis. The date of their
composition, however, is doubtless some years earlier, for
Durant was born at Clermont in 1550 3 , four years before his
fellow-townsman, Jean Bonnefons. Sainte-Beuve says of him
that " neither Passerat nor Ronsard, nor any other poet of the
period, has better expressed that feeling of sadness which
springs from the very heart of fruition, and those thoughts of
death which are everlastingly bound up with the images of
pleasure 4 ." In this he recalls Olivier de Magny, and probably
as in Magny's case the melancholy may be regarded as the

1 ib. I. 143. Translated by A. Lang, op. cit. p. 37.

2 See G. Saintsbury, Specimens, p. 130.

3 He died in 1605.

4 Tableau, p. 126. See also G. Allais, Malherbe, pp. 80 IT.



58 THE SECOND GENERATION [CH.

expression rather of a literary commonplace than of any-
poignant personal feeling. At any rate there is little mel-
ancholy in his famous contribution to the Satire Menippee,
the poem on the due ligueur, written when, having become
like his friend Bonnefons a serious member of society and a
distinguished advocate, he had bidden farewell to the poetry
of kisses. Its full title is A Mademoiselle ma commere sur le
trespas de sou asne. It is too long to quote in full, but here
are two samples :

Un asne doux et debonnaire
Qui n : avoit rien de l'ordinaire,
Mais qui sentoit avec raison
Son asne de bonne maison.

Sa mort fut assez cher vendue,

Car au boucher qui l'acheta

Trente escuz d'or sol il cousta :

Sa chair par membres despecee

Tout soudain en fut dispersee

Au legat, et le vendit on

Pour veau peut estre, ou pour mouton l .

Nicolas Rapin. grand provost of the constabulary of France,
was even less of a professional poet than his friends Passerat
and Durant' 2 :

Je fais des vers une fois l'an,
Et pour le duche" de Milan
Je ne voudrois ni ne souhaite
Qu'on me tint pour un grand poete.

His French poetry — he also wrote Latin verse — consists
chiefly of t ranslations and imitation s_of Ovid and Horace,
especially of the latter's Satires and Epistles, and in these and
one or two original pieces he shews the easy unaffected grace
of Marot. But his most important and successful poem is
Les plaisirs du gentilJwinine_shQJ2lM tre^ which, like Pibrac's
poem on the same subject, is an admirable picture of a

1 See Becq de Fouquieres, Poites franfais du xvi e siecle, pp. 377 ff. The poem
did not appear in the first edition of the Menippee.

- Rapin was born at Fontenay-le-Comte in 1540 and died in 1608. The existing
Maison de Terre-neuve at Fontenay was built for him. His life by Colletet is
printed in the Cabinet historique for 1871, 235 ff.



XVIII] THE SECOND GENERATION 59

country-gentleman's life 1 . He also wrote some poems in
classical metres, which are complete failures.

The latest of the amatory poets of the sixteenth century is
Michel Guv de Tour s, who was born about 1562 2 in the city
from which he borrowed an additional surname. His poetry
was not published till 1598 3 , when, like Gilles Durant, he had
become a grave advocate, but it is all exceedingly youthful
in character. Even more than Durant's it bears a marked
resemblance to much of Magny's work. It shews the same
sincerity and youthful ardour as Magny's, the same pre-
occupation with the material side of love; and if there is less
imagination, there is also less conceit and less display of
classical learning 4 . There is a good deal of beauty in the
following sonnet :

Yoici le coudre ou ma saincte Angelette
Se vint asseoir pour y prendre le fraiz
Et pour s'armer a l'encontre des raiz
Que le soleil du trebuchet nous gette.

Voici le coudre ou je l'a vy seulette,
Ou mes deux yeux humerent a longs traiz
Le doux venin qu'enfantent ses attraiz,
Attraiz autheurs de ma flamme secrette.

Ce l'est vra>ment, et pour ce, mes Amis,
En reverant la beaute qui m'a mis
L'amour au cceur, beuvons sous sa rame'e :

Sus que chacun tarisse jusqu'au fond
Autant de fois ce goubelet profond
Qu'y ay de fois baise ma bien-aymee 5 .

and in an ode on the familiar subject of spring and love which
begins :

Maintenant que la belle Flore
Fait tout partout les fleurs eclore

1 Printed in 1583.

2 He died after 161 1.

3 Edited by P. Blanchemain, 2 vols. 1878, with some omissions.

4 A poem on his dog Bistoquet (ed. Blanchemain, II. 79) is evidently inspired
by the poems of Du Bellay and Magny on Peloton.

5 Ed. Blanchemain, 1. p. 5; from Sonnets en faveur de son Ente (book i of the
original edition).



60 THE SECOND GENERATION [CH.

Et que le gay rossignolet
Enfueille dans une rame'e
Va courtisant sa bien-aymee
D'un langage mignardelet l .



3. Vauque lin de la Fresnaye.

From Touraine we pass to Normandy, where in the small
town of Vire, the capital of Lower Normandy, we find another
lawyer, Maitre Jean le Houx, writing drinking songs which he
called Vanx de Vire. In this he was following the example
of a worthy fuller of the same town, Olivier Basselin, who fell
fighting against the English in the middle of the fifteenth
century either at Fourmigny or in some minor skirmish.
Indeed, till recently he was supposed merely to have touched
up the work of his predecessor, but M. Armand Gaste has
proved conclusively both by internal and external evidence
that he was the real author of the songs 2 . It seems curious
now that there should ever have been any doubt on the
subject, for apart from allusions to sixteenth century events
the writer of the Vanx de Vire evidently learnt his art in the
school of the Pleiad. The variety of his metres is by itself
enough to proclaim him a Ronsardist ; classical allusions are
not wanting, and when but in the age of the Renaissance
could the following stanza have been written ?

Qui ayme bien le vin est de bpnne nature.
Les mortz ne boyvent plus dedans la sepulture.

He ! qui scait s'il vivra
Peult estre encor demain ? Chassons melancholic
le vay boire d'autant a ceste compaignie :

Suyve qui m'aymera 3 !

Apart from the ingenuity which can treat a single theme
in so many different fashions, the. merit of these songs is not

1 ib. II. 33 ; from book iv [en faveur de sa Neree).

2 A. Gaste, Etude stir Jean le Houx ; and see Muirhead's introduction to his
edition of the Vaux de Vire. Among other things Gaste shewed that the MS
of the Vaux de Vire in the Caen library is undoubtedly in the handwriting of
Jean le Houx.

3 Ed. Muirhead, p. 4.



XVIII] THE SECOND GENERATION 6l

very great. They are especially wanting in the chief requisite
of a drinking song, a good swinging melody. The following
will serve as a specimen :

I'avois charge mon navire

De vins qui estoient tres bons,

Telz comme il les faut a Vire,

Pour boire aux bons compagnons.
Donnez par charity, a boire a ce povre homme marinier,
Qui par tourmente et fortune a tout perdu sur la mer.

Nous estions bonne troupe,
Aymons ce que menions,
Qui ayans le vent en pouppe
L'un a l'aultre en beuvions.
Donnez, etc.

Deia, proches du rivage,
Ayans ben cinq ou six coups,
Nous fismes triste nauffrage
Et ne sauvasmes que nous.
Donnez, etc.

II fust mieux en nostre gorge
Ce vin que estre en la mer :
Quand chacun chez soy le loge,
II est hors de tout danger.
Donnez, etc. 1

The chief representative of the poetic art in Normandy
during this period — for Bertaut and Du Perron, though
both Normans by birth, had migrated to Paris and were
essentially Court poets — is J^ajT__Vauquelinde_la_ Fresnaye,
who fitly closes this chapter. For in a way he may be said
to sum up the whole work of the Pleiad. Not because by far
the greater part of his poetry was not published till the very
year 1605 which has been chosen to mark the end of the
Renaissance period, for it was mostly written before Ronsard's
death; but because his Art poctiqiie is, to borrow Sainte-
Beuve's phrase, the official code of the Pleiad, the epilogue
to the movement of which the Deffence was the prologue 2 .

1 ib. p. 56.

2 //... conticnt... le bilan de la poesie francaise aux environs de 1583. P. Morillot
in Petit de Julleville, ill. iy t .



62 THE SECOND GENERATION [CH.

Vauquelin was born at the chateau of Fresnaye, near
Falaise, in 1536. After studying the humanities under Turnebe
and Muret at Paris, he read law first at Angers, and then at
Poitiers. There, as we have seen, he formed one of a group
of young men who neglected law for poetry and looked up
to Jacques Tahureau as their master 1 . In 1555, the year
after his arrival, he published at Poitiers his Forestries, a
very youthful production, inspired partly by a real love of
nature, partly by classical literature, and to a large extent
modelled on the least valuable portion of Tahureau's poetry,
the mawkish baisers and viignardises. This, however, was his
last appearance in print for half-a-century. His volume
received encouragement neither from the public nor from
his mother — his father had died when he was a boy — and
he accordingly betook himself seriously to the study of law
under Duaren at Bourges, and so qualified himself to fill the
part of a patriotic citizen' 2 . From 1572 to 1595 he held the
post of lieutenant-general of the bailiwick of Caen, and in
1588 he represented that district at the Estates of Blois.
But the calls of an active public life did not lead him to
abandon poetry altogether. In his own words :

Et le temps qui me reste en mon peu de loisir,
Aux lettres je le donne, aux vers je prens plaisir,
J'imite, je traduits, j'invente, je compose,
Apres les anciens, ore en vers, ore en prose 3 .

But for a long time he resisted all temptations to publish
these fruits of his leisure. At last, in 1604, when he was
verging on his seventieth year, his resistance gave way, and
he began the printing of a volume which was finished in the
following year. If he had ever had any faculty of self-
criticism, he had utterly lost it by this time. Five books of
satires, two of idylls (including much that was grossly
indecent), an art poe'tique of nearly 3,500 lines, innumerable

1 En ce temps, 6 quel heur ! sans haine et sans envie
Nous passions dans Poitiers l'Avril de nostre vie
Au lieu de demesler de nos Droits les debats.

Art Poitique, II. 1067 — 9.

2 See his satire, A son livre, the last of book i, for details of his early life.

3 First satire of book iv {Diverses poesies, p. 311).



XVIII] THE SECOND GENERATION 63

sonnets, epitaphs and epigrams, all went to swell the volume.
He omitted nothing except the already published Foresteries,
and a long pastoral elegy on his friend and fellow-
magistrate, Jean Rouxel. Two years later (1607) he died,
leaving the reputation of a singularly high-minded and
amiable gentleman 1 .

The lack of judgment which he shewed in the publication
of his poems has its compensating side for the student of
literature, for it makes him an admirable measure of the
faults and virtues of his poetic school. His most glaring
fault is over-production, production without any real inspira-
tion. No event was too dull, no topic too trivial for his
Muse. Akin to this is his diffuseness, his utter lack of
economy in expression. Truly might he have said with
Pascal, " I have made this poem so long, because I had not
the leisure to make it shorter." Thirdly, in the Foresteries
and the Idyllies, he exaggerates the unmanly side of the
Pleiad poetry, its sugared sentiment, its baby prettinesses, its
preoccupation with the material side of love. Lastly he
carries to excess the tendency of his school to imitation
and plagiarism. Yet with these grave faults he has some
measure of the two most important poetic gifts, i maginati on,
and the faculty of poet ic utterance. He was a true disciple
of_the_Pleiad, and the Pleiad , with all its defects, was a school
o f true poetry . Thus in the Idyllies, many of which were
written before 1 560 when he was little over twenty, we come
upon charming snatches of song, in which that mixture of
simplicity and art which is the true idyllic flavour is perhaps
better represented than in any other of the pastoral pro-
ductions of the Pleiad. There are no better specimens than
the two chosen by Professor Saintsbury. Here is one of
them :

Pasteurs, voici la fonteinette,
Ou tousjours se venoit mirer,
Et ses beautez, seule, admirer
La pastourelle Philinette.

1 For the date of his death see J. T ravers, Essai, p. lxxxiii. It is correctly
given by Moreri.



Online LibraryArthur Augustus TilleyThe literature of the French renaissance (Volume 2) → online text (page 6 of 34)