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Title: A Short History of French Literature
Author: Saintsbury, George, 1845-1933
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Short History of French Literature" ***





New York


Clarendon Press Series











An attempt to present to students a succinct history of the course of
French literature compiled from an examination of that literature
itself, and not merely from previous accounts of it is, I believe, a new
one in English. There will be observed in the parts of this Short
History a considerable difference of method; and as such a difference is
not usual in works of the kind, it may be well to state the reasons
which have induced me to adopt it. Early French literature is to a great
extent anonymous. Moreover, even where it is not, the authors were
usually more influenced by certain prevalent styles or forms than by
anything else. Into these forms they threw without considerations of
congruity whatever they had to say. Nothing, for instance, can be less
suitable for historical or scientific disquisition than the octosyllabic
metre of a satiric poem. But Jean de Meung and one at least of the
authors of _Renart le Contrefait_[1] do not think of composing prose
diatribes. At one moment and place the form of the Chanson de Geste is
all-absorbing, at another the form of the Roman d'Aventures, at another
the form of the Fabliau. In Book I. I shall therefore proceed by these
forms, giving an account of each separately.

After Villon the case changes. Instead of classes of chroniclers,
trouvères, jongleurs, we get individual authors of eminence and
individuality striking out their own way and saying their own say in
the manner not that is fashionable but that seems best to them. During
this time, therefore, and especially during that brilliant age of French
literature, the sixteenth century, I shall proceed by authors, taking
the most remarkable individually, and grouping their followers around

From the time of Malherbe the system of schools begins, divided
according to subjects. The poet, the dramatist, the historian, have
their predecessors, and either intentionally copy them or intentionally
innovate upon them. Malherbe and Delille, Corneille and Lemercier,
Sarrasin and Rulhière, whatever the difference of merit, stand to one
another in a definite relation, and the later writers represent more or
less the accepted traditions each of his school. In this part,
therefore, I shall proceed by subjects, taking historians, poets,
dramatists, etc., together. One difference will be noticed between the
third and fourth Books, dealing respectively with the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries. It has seemed unnecessary to allot a special
chapter to theological and ecclesiastical writing in the latter, or to
scientific writing in the former.

Almost all writers who have attempted literary histories in a small
compass have recognised the difficulty, or rather impossibility, of
treating contemporary or recent work on the same scale as older authors.
In treating, therefore, of literature subsequent to the appearance of
the Romantic movement, I shall content myself with giving a rapid sketch
of the principal literary developments and their exponents.

There are doubtless objections to this quadripartite arrangement; but it
appears to me better suited for the purpose of laying the foundations of
an acquaintance with French literature than a more uniform plan.

The space at my disposal does not admit of combining full information as
to the literature with elaborate literary comment upon its
characteristics, and there can be no doubt that in such a book as this,
destined for purposes of education chiefly, the latter must be
sacrificed to the former. As an instance of the sacrifice I may refer
to Bk. I. Ch. II. There are some forty or fifty Chansons de Gestes in
print, all of which save two or three I have read, and almost every one
of which presents points on which it would be most interesting to me to
comment. But to do this in the limits would be impossible. Nor is it
easy to enter upon disputed literary questions, however tempting they
may be. On such points as the relations of Northern to Provençal poetry,
the origin of the Chansons and the Arthurian romances, the successive
versions of Froissart, the authenticity of the last book of Rabelais, it
is only possible here to indicate the most probable conclusions.
Generally speaking, the scale of treatment will be found to be adjusted
to the system of division already stated. In the middle ages, where the
importance of the general form surpasses that of the individual
practitioners, comparatively small space is given to these individuals,
and little attempt is made to follow up the scanty and often conjectural
particulars of their lives. In the later books I have endeavoured
(departing in this respect from the system of my two former sketches of
the subject, the article on 'French Literature' in the ninth edition of
the _Encyclopædia Britannica_ and the _Primer_ which has preceded this
work in the Clarendon Press Series) to deal more fully with the greater
names whose work is most instructive, and as to whom most curiosity is
likely to be felt.

If, as seems very likely, these explanations should not content some of
my critics, I can only say that the passages which they may miss here
would have been far easier and far pleasanter for me to write than the
passages which they will here find. This volume attempts to be, not a
series of _causeries_ on the literary history of France, but a Short
History of French Literature. Two things only I have uniformly aimed at,
accuracy as absolute as I could secure, and completeness as thorough as
space would allow. In the pursuit of the former object I have thought it
well to take no fact or opinion at second-hand where the originals were
accessible to me. Manuscript sources I do not pretend to have
consulted; but any judgment which is passed in this book may be taken
as founded on personal acquaintance with the book or author unless the
contrary be stated. Some familiarity with the subject has convinced me
that nowhere are opinions of doubtful accuracy more frequently adopted
and handed on without enquiry than in the history of literature.

Those who read this book for purposes of study will, it is hoped, be
already acquainted with the _Primer_, which is, in effect, an
introduction to it, and which contains what may be called a bird's-eye
view of the subject. But, lest the wood should be lost sight of for the
trees, notes or interchapters have been inserted between the several
books, indicating the general lines of development followed by the great
literature which I have attempted to survey. To these I have for the
most part confined generalisations as distinct from facts.

I have, I believe, given in the notes a sufficient list of authorities
which those who desire to follow up the subject may consult. I have not
been indiscriminately lavish in indicating editions of authors, though I
believe that full information will be found as to those necessary for a
scholarly working knowledge of French literature. I had originally hoped
to illustrate the whole book with extracts; but I discovered that such a
course would either swell it to an undesirable bulk, or else would
provide passages too short and too few to be of much use. I have
therefore confined the extracts to the mediaeval period, which can be
illustrated by selections of moderate length, and in which such
illustration, from the general resemblance between the individuals of
each class, and the comparative rarity of the original texts, is
specially desirable. To avoid the serious drawback of the difference of
principle on which old French reprints have been constructed, as many of
these extracts as possible have been printed from Herr Karl Bartsch's
admirable _Chrestomathie_. But in cases where extracts were either not
to be found there, or were not, in my judgment, sufficiently
characteristic, I have departed from this plan. The illustration, by
extracts, of the later literature, which requires more space, has been
reserved for a separate volume.

I had also intended to subjoin some tabular views of the chief literary
forms, authors, and books of the successive centuries. But when I formed
this intention I was not aware that such tables already existed in a
book very likely to be in the hands of those who use this work, M.
Gustave Masson's _French Dictionary_. Although the plan I had formed was
not quite identical with his, and though the execution might have
differed in detail, it seemed both unnecessary and to a certain extent
ungracious to trespass on the same field. With regard to dates the Index
will, it is believed, be found to contain the date of the birth and
death, or, if these be not obtainable, the _floruit_ of every deceased
author of any importance who is mentioned in the book. It has not seemed
necessary invariably to duplicate this information in the text. I have
also availed myself of this Index (for the compilation of which I owe
many thanks to Miss S. A. Ingham) to insert a very few particulars,
which seemed to find a better place there than in the body of the
volume, as being not strictly literary.

In conclusion, I think it well to say that the composition of this book
has, owing to the constant pressure of unavoidable occupations, been
spread over a considerable period, and has sometimes been interrupted
for many weeks or even months. This being the case, I fear that there
may be some omissions, perhaps some inconsistencies, not improbably some
downright errors. I do not ask indulgence for these, because that no
author who voluntarily publishes a book has a right to ask, nor,
perhaps, have critics a right to give it. But if any critic will point
out to me any errors of fact, I can promise repentance, as speedy
amendment as may be, and what is more, gratitude.


_Preface to the Second Edition._--In the second edition the text has
been very carefully revised. All corrections of fact indicated by
critics and private correspondents, both English and French (among whom
I owe especial thanks to M. A. Beljame), have, after verification, been
made. A considerable number of additional dates of the publication of
important books have been inserted in the text, and the Index has
undergone a strict examination, resulting in the correction of some
faults which were due not to the original compiler but to myself. On the
suggestion of several competent authorities a Conclusion, following the
lines of the Interchapters, is now added. If less deference is shown to
some strictures which have been passed on the plan of the work and the
author's literary views, it is due merely to the conviction that a
writer must write his own book in his own way if it is to be of any good
to anybody. But in a few places modifications of phrases which seemed to
have been misconceived or to be capable of misconception have been made.
I have only to add sincere thanks to my critics for the very general
and, I fear, scarcely deserved approval with which this Short History of
a long subject has been received, and to my readers for the promptness
with which a second edition of it has been demanded.


_Preface to the Third Edition._--In making, once more, an examination of
this book for the purposes of a third edition I have again done my best
to correct such mistakes as must (I think I may say inevitably) occur in
a very large number of compressed statements about matter often in
itself of great minuteness and complexity. I have found some such
mistakes, and I make no doubt that I have left some.

In the process of examination I have had the assistance of two detailed
reviews of parts of the book by two French critics, each of very high
repute in his way. The first of these, by M. Gaston Paris, in _Romania_
(XII, 602 _sqq._), devoted to the mediæval section only, actually
appeared before my second edition: but accident prevented my availing
myself of it fully, though some important corrections suggested by it
were made on a slip inserted in most of the copies of that issue. The
assistance thus given by M. Paris (whose forbearance in using his great
learning as a specialist I have most cordially to acknowledge) has been
supplemented by the appearance, quite recently, of an admirable
condensed sketch of his own[2], which, compact as it is, is a very
storehouse of information on the subject. If in this book I have not
invariably accepted M. Paris' views or embodied his corrections, it is
merely because in points of opinion and inference as opposed to
ascertained fact, the use of independent judgment seems to me always

The other criticism (in this case of the later part of my book), by M.
Edmond Scherer, would not seem to have been written in the same spirit.
M. Scherer holds very different views from mine on literature in general
and French literature in particular; he seems (which is perhaps natural)
not to be able to forgive me the difference, and to imagine (which if
not unnatural is perhaps a little unreasonable, a little uncharitable,
and even, considering an express statement in my preface, a little
impolite) that I cannot have read the works on which we differ. I am
however grateful to him for showing that a decidedly hostile
examination, conducted with great minuteness and carefully confined to
those parts of the subject with which the critic is best acquainted,
resulted in nothing but the discovery of about half a dozen or a dozen
misprints and slips of fact[3]. One only of these (the very unpardonable
blunder of letting Madame de Staël's _Considérations_ appear as an
early work, which I do not know how I came either to commit or to
overlook) is of real importance. Such slips I have corrected with due
gratitude. But I have not altered passages where M. Scherer mistakes
facts or mistakes me. I need hardly say that I have made no alterations
in criticism, and that the passage referring to M. Scherer himself (with
the exception of a superfluous accent) stands precisely as it did.

Some additions have been made to the latter part of the book, but not
very many: for the attempt to 'write up' such a history to date every
few years can only lead to confusion and disproportion. I have had,
during the decade which has passed since the book was first planned,
rather unusual opportunities of acquainting myself with all new French
books of any importance, but a history is not a periodical, and I have
thought it best to give rather grudging than free admittance to
new-comers. On the other hand, I have endeavoured, as far as possible,
to obliterate chronological references which the effluxion of time has
rendered, or may render, misleading. The notes to which it seemed most
important to attract attention, as modifying or enlarging some statement
in the text, are specially headed 'Notes to Third Edition': but they
represent only a small part of the labour which has been expended on the
text. I have also again overhauled and very considerably enlarged the
index; while the amplification of the 'Contents' by subjoining to each
chapter-heading a list of the side-headings of the paragraphs it
contains, will, I think, be found an advantage. And so I commend the
book once more to readers and to students[4].


[1] _Note to Third Edition._--M. Gaston Paris expresses some surprise at
my saying 'one of the authors,' and attributes both versions to the
Troyes clerk (see pp. 52, 53). I can only say that so long as _Renart le
Contrefait_ is unpublished, if not longer, such a question is difficult
to decide: and that the accepted monograph on the subject (that of Wolf)
left on my mind the impression of plural authorship as probable.

[2] _La Littérature Française du Moyen Age_ (Paris, 1888).

[3] A preface is but an ill place for controversy. As however M.
Scherer, thanks chiefly to the late Mr. Matthew Arnold, enjoys some
repute in England, I may give an example of his censure. He accuses me
roundly of giving in my thirty dates of Corneille's plays 'une dizaine
de fausses,' and he quotes (as I do) M. Marty-Laveaux. As since the
beginning, years ago, of my Cornelian studies, I have constantly used
that excellent edition, though, now as always, reserving my own judgment
on points of opinion, I verified M. Scherer's appeal with some alarm at
first, and more amusement afterwards. The eminent critic of the _Temps_
had apparently contented himself with turning to the half-titles of the
plays and noting the dates given, which in ten instances do differ from
mine. Had his patience been equal to consulting the learned editor's
_Notices_, he would have found in every case but one the reasons which
prevailed and prevail with me given by M. Marty-Laveaux himself. The one
exception I admit. I was guilty of the iniquity of confusing the date of
the publication of _Othon_ with the date of its production, and printing
1665 instead of 1664. So dangerous is it to digest and weigh an editor's
arguments, instead of simply copying his dates. Had I done the latter, I
had 'scaped M. Scherer's tooth.

[4] The remarks on M. Scherer in this preface (and I need hardly say
still more those which occur in the body of the book with reference to a
few others of his criticisms) were written long before his fatal
illness, and had been sent finally to press some time before the
announcement of his death. I had at first thought of endeavouring to
suppress those which could be recalled. But it seemed to me on
reflection that the best compliment to the memory of a man who was
himself nothing if not uncompromising, and towards whom, whether alive
or dead, I am not conscious of having entertained any ill-feeling, would
be to print them exactly as they stood, with the brief addition that I
have not known a critic more acute within his range, or more honest
according to what he saw, than M. Edmond Scherer. (March 20, 1889.)



PREFACE                                                        v



CHAP. I. THE ORIGINS                                           1

Relation of French to Latin. Influence of Latin Literature.
Early Monuments. Dialects and Provincial Literatures.
Beginning of Literature proper. Cantilenae. Trouvères
and Jongleurs.

II. CHANSONS DE GESTES                                        10

Origin of Chansons de Gestes. Definition. Period of
Composition. Chanson de Roland. Amis et Amiles.
Other principal Chansons. Social and Literary Characteristics.
Authorship. Style and Language. Later

III. PROVENÇAL LITERATURE                                     26

Langue d'Oc. Range and characteristics. Periods of
Provençal Literature. First Period. Second Period.
Forms of Troubadour Poetry. Third Period. Literary
Relation of Provençal and French. Defects of Provençal

IV. ROMANCES OF ARTHUR AND OF ANTIQUITY                       34

The Tale of Arthur. Its Origin. Order of French Arthurian
Cycle. Chrestien de Troyes. Spirit and Literary
value of Arthurian Romances. Romances of Antiquity.
Chanson d'Alixandre. Roman de Troie. Other Romances
on Classical subjects.

V. FABLIAUX. THE ROMAN DU RENART                              47

Foreign Elements in Early French Literature. The Esprit
Gaulois makes its appearance. Definition of Fabliaux.
Subjects and character of Fabliaux. Sources of Fabliaux.
The Roman du Renart. The Ancien Renart. Le Couronnement
Renart. Renart le Nouvel. Renart le Contrefait.

VI. EARLY LYRICS                                              62

Early and Later Lyrics. Origins of Lyric. Romances
and Pastourelles. Thirteenth Century. Changes in Lyric.
Traces of Lyric in the Thirteenth Century. Quesnes de
Bethune. Thibaut de Champagne. Minor Singers. Adam
de la Halle. Ruteboeuf. Lais. Marie de France.

VII. SERIOUS AND ALLEGORICAL POETRY                           75

Verse Chronicles. Miscellaneous Satirical Verse. Didactic
verse. Philippe de Thaun. Moral and Theological verse.
Allegorical verse. The Roman de la Rose. Popularity
of the Roman de la Rose. Imitations.

VIII. ROMANS D'AVENTURES                                      91

Distinguishing features of Romans d'Aventures. Looser
application of the term. Classes of Romans d'Aventures.
Adenès le Roi. Raoul de Houdenc. Chief Romans
d'Aventures. General Character. Last Chansons. Baudouin
de Sebourc.

IX. LATER SONGS AND POEMS                                    100

The Artificial Forms of Northern France. General Character.
Varieties. Jehannot de Lescurel. Guillaume de
Machault. Eustache Deschamps. Froissart. Christine
de Pisan. Alain Chartier.

X. THE DRAMA                                                 110

Origins of the Drama. Earliest Vernacular Dramatic
Forms. Mysteries and Miracles. Miracles de la Vierge.
Heterogeneous Character of Mysteries. Argument of a
Miracle Play. Profane Drama. Adam de la Halle.
Monologues. Farces. Moralities. Soties. Profane
Mysteries. Societies of Actors.

XI. PROSE CHRONICLES                                         127

Beginning of Prose Chronicles. Grandes Chroniques de
France. Villehardouin. Minor Chroniclers between Villehardouin
and Joinville. Joinville. Froissart. Fifteenth-Century

XII. MISCELLANEOUS PROSE                                     140

General use of Prose. Prose Sermons. St. Bernard.
Maurice de Sully. Later Preachers. Gerson. Moral and
Devotional Treatises. Translators. Political and Polemical
Works. Codes and Legal Treatises. Miscellanies
and Didactic Works. Fiction. Antoine de la Salle.





The Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Characteristics
of Fifteenth-century Literature. Villon. Comines. Coquillart.
Baude. Martial d'Auvergne. The Rhétoriqueurs.
Chansons du xv'ème Siècle. Preachers.

II. MAROT AND HIS CONTEMPORARIES                             168

Hybrid School of Poetry. Jean le Maire. Jehan du
Pontalais. Roger de Collérye. Minor Predecessors of Marot.
Clément Marot. The School of Marot. Mellin de Saint-Gelais.
Miscellaneous Verse. Anciennes Poésies Françaises.

III. RABELAIS AND HIS FOLLOWERS                              183

Fiction at the beginning of the Sixteenth Century. Rabelais.
Bonaventure des Périers. The Heptameron. Noel du
Fail. G. Bouchet. Cholières. Apologie pour Hérodote.
Moyen de Parvenir.

IV. THE PLÉIADE                                              196

Character and Effects of the Pléiade Movement. Ronsard.
The Défense et Illustration de la Langue Française. Du
Bellay. Belleau. Baïf. Daurat, Jodelle, Pontus de
Tyard. Magny. Tahureau. Minor Ronsardists. Du
Bartas. D'Aubigné. Desportes. Bertaut.

V. THE THEATRE FROM GRINGORE TO GARNIER                      216

Gringore. The last Age of the Mediaeval Theatre. Beginnings
of the Classical Drama. Jodelle. Minor Pléiade
Dramatists. Garnier. Defects of the Pléiade Tragedy.
Pléiade Comedy. Larivey.

VI. CALVIN AND AMYOT                                         228

Prose Writers of the Renaissance. Calvin. Minor Reformers
and Controversialists. Preachers of the League.
Amyot. Minor Translators. Dolet. Fauchet. Pasquier.
Henri Estienne. Herberay. Palissy. Paré. Olivier de Serres.

VII. MONTAIGNE AND BRANTÔME                                  241

Disenchantment of the late Renaissance. Montaigne.
Charron. Du Vair. Bodin and other Political Writers.
Brantôme. Montluc. La Noue. Agrippa d'Aubigné.
Marguerite de Valois. Vieilleville. Palma-Cayet. Pierre
de l'Estoile. D'Ossat. Sully. Jeannin. Minor Memoir-writers.
General Historians.

VIII. THE SATYRE MÉNIPPÉE. REGNIER                           259

Satyre Ménippée. Regnier.




 CHAP. I. POETS                                              274

Malherbe. The School of Malherbe. Vers de Société.
Voiture. Epic School. Chapelain. Bacchanalian School.
Saint Amant. La Fontaine. Boileau. Minor Poets of the
Seventeenth Century.

II. DRAMATISTS                                               290

Montchrestien. Hardy. Minor predecessors of Corneille.
Rotrou. Corneille. Racine. Minor Tragedians. Development
of Comedy. Molière. Contemporaries of
Molière. The School of Molière. Regnard. Characteristics
of Molièresque Comedy.

III. NOVELISTS                                               319

D'Urfé. The Heroic Romances. Scarron. Cyrano de
Bergerac. Furetière. Madame de la Fayette. Fairy
Tales. Perrault.


General Historians. Mézeray. Historical Essayists.
St. Réal. Memoir-writers. Rohan. Bassompierre.
Madame de Motteville. Cardinal de Retz. Mademoiselle.
La Rochefoucauld. Saint Simon. Madame de Sévigné.
Tallemant des Réaux. Historical Antiquaries. Du Cange.

V. ESSAYISTS, MINOR MORALISTS, CRITICS                       354

Balzac. Pascal. La Rochefoucauld. La Bruyère.

VI. PHILOSOPHERS                                             368

Descartes. Port Royal. Bayle. Malebranche.

VII. THEOLOGIANS AND PREACHERS                               379

St. François de Sales. Bossuet. Fénelon. Massillon.
Bourdaloue. Minor Preachers.




CHAP. I. POETS                                               395

Literary Degeneracy of the Eighteenth Century, especially
manifest in Poetry. J. B. Rousseau. Voltaire. Descriptive
Poets. Delille. Lebrun. Parny. Chénier. Minor
Poets. Light Verse. Piron. Désaugiers.

CHAP. II. DRAMATISTS                                         406

Divisions of Drama. La Motte. Crébillon the Elder.
Voltaire and his followers. Lesage. Comédie Larmoyante.
La Chaussée. Diderot. Marivaux. Beaumarchais. Characteristics
of Eighteenth-century Drama.

III. NOVELISTS                                               416

Lesage. Marivaux. Prévost. Voltaire. Diderot. Rousseau.
Crébillon the Younger. Bernardin de St. Pierre. Restif
de la Bretonne. Chateaubriand. Madame de Staël.
Xavier de Maistre. Benjamin Constant.


Characteristics and Divisions of Eighteenth-century History.
Rollin. Dubos. Boulainvilliers. Voltaire. Mably.
Rulhière. Memoirs. Mme. de Staal-Delaunay. Duclos.
Bésenval. Madame d'Epinay. Minor Memoirs. Memoirs
of the Revolutionary Period. Abundance of Letter-writers.
Mademoiselle Aïssé. Madame du Deffand. Mademoiselle
de Lespinasse. Voltaire. Diderot. Galiani.

V. ESSAYISTS, MINOR MORALISTS, CRITICS                       452

Occasional Writing in the Eighteenth-century. Periodicals.
Fontenelle. La Motte. Vauvenargues. D'Aguesseau.
Duclos. Marmontel. La Harpe. Thomas. Orthodox
Apologists. Fréron. Philosophe Criticism. D'Alembert.
Diderot. Les Feuilles de Grimm. Diderot's Salons. His
General Criticism. Newspapers of the Revolution. The
Influence of Journalism. Chamfort. Rivarol. Joubert.
Courier. Sénancour.

VI. PHILOSOPHERS                                             473

The philosophe movement. Montesquieu. Lettres Persanes.
Grandeur et Décadence des Romains. Esprit des
Lois. Voltaire. The Encyclopædia. Diderot. D'Alembert.
Rousseau. Political Economists. Vauban, Quesnay,
etc. Turgot. Condorcet. Volney. La Mettrie. Helvétius.
Système de la Nature. Condillac. Joseph de
Maistre. Bonald.

VII. SCIENTIFIC WRITERS                                      499

Buffon. Lesser Scientific Writers. Voyages and Travels.
Linguistic and Literary Study.



THE NINETEENTH CENTURY                                       510

The Romantic Movement. Writers of the later Transition.
Béranger. Lamartine. Lamennais. Victor Cousin. Beyle.
Nodier. Delavigne. Soumet. The Romantic Propaganda
in Periodicals. Victor Hugo. Sainte-Beuve. His Method.
Dangers of the Method. Dumas the Elder. Honoré de
Balzac. George Sand. Mérimée. Théophile Gautier.
Alfred de Musset. Influence of the Romantic Leaders.
Minor Poets of 1830. Alfred de Vigny. Auguste Barbier.
Gérard de Nerval. Curiosités Romantiques. Pétrus Borel.
Louis Bertrand. Second Group of Romantic Poets.
Théodore de Banville. Leconte de Lisle. Charles Baudelaire.
Minor Poets of the Second Romantic Group.
Dupont. The Parnasse. Minor and later Dramatists.
Scribe. Ponsard. Emile Augier. Eugène Labiche. Dumas
the Younger. Victorien Sardou. Classes of Nineteenth-century
Fiction. Minor and later Novelists. Jules Janin.
Charles de Bernard. Jules Sandeau. Octave Feuillet.
Murger. Edmond About. Feydeau. Gustave Droz.
Flaubert. The Naturalists. Emile Zola. Journalists
and Critics. Paul de St. Victor. Hippolyte Taine.
Academic Critics. Linguistic and Literary Study of
French. Philosophical Writers. Comte. Theological
Writers. Montalembert. Ozanam. Lacordaire. Ernest
Renan. Historians. Thierry. Thiers. Guizot. Mignet.
Michelet. Quinet. Tocqueville. Minor Historians.

CONCLUSION                                                   579

INDEX                                                        591





[Sidenote: Relation of French to Latin.]

Of all European literatures the French is, by general consent, that
which possesses the most uniformly fertile, brilliant, and unbroken
history. In actual age it may possibly yield to others, but the
connection between the language of the oldest and the language of the
newest French literature is far closer than in these other cases, and
the fecundity of mediaeval writers in France far exceeds that of their
rivals elsewhere. For something like three centuries England, Germany,
Italy, and more doubtfully and to a smaller extent, Spain, were content
for the most part to borrow the matter and the manner of their literary
work from France. This brilliant literature was however long before it
assumed a regularly organized form, and in order that it might do so a
previous literature and a previous language had to be dissolved and
precipitated anew. With a few exceptions, to be presently noticed,
French literature is not to be found till after the year 1000, that is
to say until a greater lapse of time had passed since Caesar's campaigns
than has passed from the later date to the present day. Taking the
earliest of all monuments, the Strasburg Oaths, as starting-point, we
may say that French language and French literature were nine hundred
years in process of formation. The result was a remarkable one in
linguistic history. French is unquestionably a daughter of Latin, yet it
is not such a daughter as Italian or Spanish. A knowledge of the older
language would enable a reader who knew no other to spell out, more or
less painfully, the meaning of most pages of the two Peninsular
languages; it would hardly enable him to do more than guess at the
meaning of a page of French. The long process of gestation transformed
the appearance of the new tongue completely, though its grammatical
forms and the bulk of its vocabulary are beyond all question Latin. The
history of this process belongs to the head of language, not of
literature, and must be sought elsewhere. It is sufficient to say that
the first mention of a _lingua romana rustica_ is found in the seventh
century, while allusions in Latin documents show us its gradual use in
pulpit and market-place, and even as a vehicle for the rude songs of the
minstrel, long before any trace of written French can be found.

[Sidenote: Influence of Latin Literature.]

Meanwhile, however, Latin was doing more than merely furnishing the
materials of the new language. The literary faculty of the Gauls was
early noticed, and before their subjection had long been completed they
were adepts at using the language of the conquerors. It does not fall
within our plan to notice in detail the Latin literature of Gaul and
early France, but the later varieties of that literature deserve some
little attention, because of the influence which they undoubtedly
exercised on the literary forms of the new language. In early French
there is little trace of the influence of the Latin forms which we call
classical. It was the forms of the language which has been said to have
'dived under ground with Naevius and come up again with Prudentius' that
really influenced the youthful tongue. Ecclesiastical Latin, and
especially the wonderful melody of the early Latin hymn-writers, had by
far the greatest effect upon it. Ingenious and not wholly groundless
efforts have been made to trace the principal forms of early French
writing to the services and service-books of the church, the chronicle
to the sacred histories, the lyric to the psalm and the hymn, the
mystery to the elaborate and dramatic ritual of the church. The _Chanson
de Geste_, indeed, displays in its matter and style many traces of
Germanic origin, but the metre with its regular iambic cadence and its
rigid caesura testifies to Latin influence. The service thus performed
to the literature was not unlike the service performed to the language.
In the one case the scaffolding, or rather the skeleton, was furnished
in the shape of grammar; in the other a similar skeleton, in the shape
of prosody, was supplied. Important additions were indeed made by the
fresh elements introduced. Rhyme Latin had itself acquired. But of the
musical refrains which are among the most charming features of early
French lyric poetry we find no vestige in the older tongue.

[Sidenote: Early Monuments.]

The history of the French language, as far as concerns literature, from
the seventh to the eleventh century, can be rapidly given. The earliest
mention of the Romance tongue as distinguished from Latin and from
German dialect refers to 659, and occurs in the life of St. Mummolinus
or Momolenus, bishop of Noyon, who was chosen for that office because of
his knowledge of the two languages, Teutonic and Romanic[5]. We may
therefore assume that Mummolinus preached in the _lingua Romana_. To the
same century is referred the song of St. Faron, bishop of Meaux[6], but
this only exists in Latin, and a Romance original is inferred rather
than proved. In the eighth century the Romance eloquence of St. Adalbert
is commended[7], and to the same period are referred the glossaries of
Reichenau and Cassel, lists containing in the first case Latin and
Romance equivalents, in the second Teutonic and Romance[8]. By the
beginning of the ninth century it was compulsory for bishops to preach
in Romance, and to translate such Latin homilies as they read[9]; and to
this same era has been referred a fragmentary commentary on the Book of
Jonah[10], included in the latest collection of 'Monuments[11].' In 842
we have the Strasburg Oaths, celebrated alike in French history and
French literature. The text of the MS. of Nithard which contains them is
of the tenth century.

We now come to documents less shapeless. The tenth century itself gives
us the song of St. Eulalie, a poem on the Passion, a life of St. Leger,
and perhaps a poem on Boethius. These four documents are of the highest
interest. Not merely has the language assumed a tolerably regular form,
but its great division into Langue d'Oc and Langue d'Oil is already
made, and grammar, prosody, and other necessities or ornaments of
bookwriting, are present. The following extracts will illustrate this
part of French literature. The Romance oaths and the 'St. Eulalie' are
given in full, the 'Passion' and the 'St. Leger' in extract; it will be
observed that the interval between the first and the others is of very
considerable width. This interval probably represents a century of
active change, and of this unfortunately we have no monuments to mark
the progress accurately.


     Pro deo amur et pro christian poblo et nostro commun
     salvament, d'ist di in avant, in quant deus savir et podir
     me dunat, si salvarai eo cist meon fradre Karlo et in aiudha
     et in cadhuna cosa, si cum on per dreit son fradra salvar
     dist, in o quid il mi altresi fazet, et ab Ludher nul plaid
     nunqua prindrai, qui meon vol cist meon fradre Karle in
     damno sit.

     Si Lodhuvigs sagrament, quæ son fradre Karlo jurat,
     conservat, et Karlus meos sendra de sua part nun los tanit,
     si io returnar nun l'int pois, ne io ne nëuls, cui eo
     returnar int pois, in nulla aiudha contra Lodhuwig nun li iv


    Buona pulcella fut Eulalia,
    bel auret corps, bellezour anima.
      Voldrent la veintre li deo inimi,
    voldrent la faire dïaule servir.
      Elle non eskoltet les mals conselliers,
    qu'elle deo raneiet, chi maent sus en ciel,
      Ne por or ned argent ne paramenz,
    por manatce regiel ne preiement.
      Nïule cose non la pouret omque pleier,
    la polle sempre non amast lo deo menestier.
      E poro fut presentede Maximiien,
    chi rex eret a cels dis sovre pagiens
      El li enortet, dont lei nonque chielt.
    qued elle fuiet lo nom christiien.
      Ell' ent adunet lo suon element,
    melz sostendreiet les empedementz,
      Qu'elle perdesse sa virginitet:
    poros furet morte a grand honestet.
      Enz enl fou la getterent, com arde tost.
    elle colpes non auret, poro nos coist.
      A ezo nos voldret concreidre li rex pagiens;
    ad une spede li roveret tolir lo chief.
      La domnizelle celle kose non contredist,
    volt lo seule lazsier, si ruovet Krist.
      In figure de colomb volat a ciel.
    tuit orem, que por nos deguet preier,
      Qued auuisset de nos Christus mercit
    post la mort et a lui nos laist venir
      Par souue clementia.


      Christus Jhesus den s'en leved,
    Gehsesmani vil' es n'anez.
    toz sos fidels seder rovet,
    avan orar sols en anet.
      Grant fu li dois, fort marrimenz.
    si condormirent tuit adés.
    Jhesus cum veg los esveled,
    trestoz orar ben los manded.
      E dunc orar cum el anned,
    si fort sudor dunques suded,
    que cum lo sangs a terra curren
    de sa sudor las sanctas gutas.
      Als sos fidels cum repadred,
    tam benlement los conforted
    li fel Judas ja s'aproismed
    ab gran cumpannie dels judeus.
      Jhesus cum vidra los judeus,
    zo lor demandet que querént.
    il li respondent tuit adun
    'Jhesum querem _Nazarenum_.'
      'Eu soi aquel,' zo dis Jhesus.
    tuit li felun cadegren jos.
    terce ves lor o demanded,
    a totas treis chedent envers.


      Domine deu devemps lauder
    et a sus sancz honor porter;
    in su' amor cantomps dels sanz
    quæ por lui augrent granz aanz;
    et or es temps et si est biens
    quæ nos cantumps de sant Lethgier.
      Primos didrai vos dels honors
    quie il auuret ab duos seniors;
    apres ditrai vos dels aanz
    que li suos corps susting si granz,
    et Evvruïns, cil deumentiz,
    qui lui a grand torment occist.
      Quant infans fud, donc a ciels temps
    al rei lo duistrent soi parent,
    qui donc regnevet a ciel di:
    cio fud Lothiers fils Baldequi.
    il le amat; deu lo covit;
    rovat que _litteras_ apresist.

[Sidenote: Dialects and Provincial Literatures.]

Considering the great extent and the political divisions of the country
called France, it is not surprising that the language which was so
slowly formed should have shown considerable dialectic variations. The
characteristics of these dialects, Norman, Picard, Walloon, Champenois,
Angevin, and so forth, have been much debated by philologists. But it so
happens that the different provinces displayed in point of literature
considerable idiosyncrasy, which it is scarcely possible to dispute.
Hardly a district of France but contributed something special to her
wide and varied literature. The South, though its direct influence was
not great, undoubtedly set the example of attention to lyrical form and
cadence. Britanny contributed the wonderfully suggestive Arthurian
legends, and the peculiar music and style of the _lai_. The border
districts of Flanders seem to deserve the credit of originating the
great beast-epic of Reynard the Fox; Picardy, Eastern Normandy, and the
Isle of France were peculiarly rich in the _fabliau_; Champagne was the
special home of the lighter lyric poetry, while almost all northern
France had a share in the Chansons de Gestes, many districts, such as
Lorraine and the Cambrésis, having a special _geste_ of their own.

[Sidenote: Beginning of Literature proper.]

It is however with the eleventh century that the history of French
literature properly so called begins. We have indeed few Romance
manuscripts so early as this, the date of most of them not being earlier
than the twelfth. But by the eleventh century not merely were laws
written in French (charters and other formal documents were somewhat
later), not merely were sermons constantly composed and preached in that
tongue, but also works of definite literature were produced in it. The
_Chanson de Roland_ is our only instance of its epic literature, but is
not likely to have stood alone: the mystery of _The Ten Virgins_, a
medley of French and Latin, has been (but perhaps falsely) ascribed to
the same date; and lyric poetry, even putting aside the obscure and
doubtful _Cantilènes_, was certainly indulged in to a considerable
extent. From this date it is therefore possible to abandon generalities,
and taking the successive forms and developments of literature, to deal
with them in detail.

Before however we attempt a systematic account of French literature as
it has been actually handed down to us, it is necessary to deal very
briefly with two questions, one of which concerns the antecedence of
possible ballad literature to the existing Chansons de Gestes, the other
the machinery of diffusion to which this and all the early historical
developments of the written French language owed much.

[Sidenote: Cantilenae.]

It has been held by many scholars, whose opinions deserve respect, that
an extensive literature of _Cantilenae_[12], or short historical
ballads, preceded the lengthy epics which we now possess, and was to a
certain extent worked up in these compositions. It is hardly necessary
to say that this depends in part upon a much larger question--the
question, namely, of the general origins of epic poetry. There are
indeed certain references[13] to these Cantilenae upon which the
theories alluded to have been built. But the Cantilenae themselves have,
as one of the best of French literary historians, the late M. Paulin
Paris, remarks of another debated product, the Provençal epic, only one
defect, 'le défaut d'être perdu,' and investigation on the subject is
therefore more curious than profitable. No remnant of them survives save
the already-mentioned Latin prose canticle of St. Faron, in which
vestiges of a French and versified original are thought to be visible,
and the ballad of Saucourt, a rough song in a Teutonic dialect[14]. In
default of direct evidence an argument has been sought to be founded on
the constant transitions, repetitions, and other peculiarities of the
Chansons, some of which (and especially _Roland_, the most famous of
all) present traces of repeated handlings of the same subject, such as
might be expected in work which was merely that of a _diaskeuast_[15] of
existing lays.

[Sidenote: Trouvères and Jongleurs.]

It is however probable that the explanation of this phenomenon need not
be sought further than in the circumstances of the composition and
publication of these poems, circumstances which also had a very
considerable influence on the whole course and character of early French
literature. We know nothing of the rise or origin of the two classes of
_Trouveurs_ and _Jongleurs_. The former (which it is needless to say is
the same word as _Troubadour_, and _Trobador_, and _Trovatore_) is the
term for the composing class, the latter for the performing one. But the
separation was not sharp or absolute, and there are abundant instances
of Trouvères[16] who performed their own works, and of Jongleurs who
aspired to the glories if not of original authorship, at any rate of
alteration and revision of the legends they sang or recited. The natural
consequence of this irregular form of publication was a good deal of
repetition in the works published. Different versions of the legends
easily enough got mixed together by the copyist, who it must be
remembered was frequently a mere mechanical reproducer, and neither
Trouvère nor Jongleur; nor should it be forgotten that, so long as
recitation was general, repetitions of this kind were almost inevitable
as a rest to the reciter's memory, and were scarcely likely to attract
unfavourable remark or criticism from the audience. We may therefore
conclude, without entering further into the details of a debate
unsuitable to the plan of this history, that, while but scanty evidence
has been shown of the existence previous to the _Chansons de Gestes_ of
a ballad literature identical in subject with those compositions, at the
same time the existence of such a literature is neither impossible nor
improbable. It is otherwise with the hypothesis of the existence of
prose chronicles, from which the early epics (and _Roland_ in
particular) are also held to have derived their origin. But this subject
will be better handled when we come to treat of the beginnings of French
prose. For the present it is sufficient to say that, with the exception
of the scattered fragments already commented upon, there is no
department of French literature before the eleventh century and the
_Chansons de Gestes_, which possesses historical existence proved by
actual monuments, and thus demands or deserves treatment here.


[5] 'Fama bonorum operum, quia praevalebat non tantum in Teutonica sed
in Romana lingua, Lotharii regis ad aures usque perveniente,' says his
life. The chronicler Sigebert confirms the statement that he was made
bishop 'quod Romanam non minus quam Teutonicam calleret linguam.'
_Lingua Latina_ and _Lingua Romana_ are from this time distinguished.

[6] The Latin form of the song is given by Helgaire, Bishop of Meaux,
who wrote a life of St. Faron, his predecessor, towards the end of the
ninth century. Helgaire uses the words 'juxta rusticitatem,' 'carmen
rusticum;' and _Lingua Rustica_ is usually if not universally synonymous
with _Lingua Romana_.

[7] 'Si vulgari id est romana lingua loqueretur omnium aliarum putares

[8] The Reichenau Glossary is at Carlsruhe. It was published in 1863 by
Holtzmann. The Cassel Glossary, which came from Fulda, was published in
the last century (1729).

[9] Ordered by the Councils of Tours, Rheims, and Arles (813-851).

[10] In the Library at Valenciennes.

[11] _Les plus anciens Monuments de la Langue Française._ Paris, 1875.

[12] The subject of the Cantilenae is discussed at great length by M.
Léon Gautier, _Les Epopées Françaises_, Ed. 2, vol. i. caps. 8-13.
Paris, 1878.

[13] These, which are for the most part very vague and not very early,
will be found fully quoted and discussed in Gautier, l. c.

[14] Published by Hoffmann von Fallersleben (1837).

[15] This word (= arranger or putter-in-order) is familiar in Homeric
discussion, and therefore seems appropriate. M. Gaston Paris speaks with
apparent confidence of the pre-existing _chants_, and, in matter of
authority, no one speaks with more than he: but it can hardly be said
that there is proof of the fact.

[16] The older and in this case more usual form.



The earliest form which finished literature took in France was that of
epic or narrative poetry. Towards the middle of the eleventh century
certainly, and probably some half-century earlier, poems of regular
construction and considerable length began to be written. These are the
_Chansons de Gestes_, so called from their dealing with the
_Gestes_[17], or heroic families of legendary or historical France. It
is remarkable that this class of composition, notwithstanding its age,
its merits, and the abundant examples of it which have been preserved,
was one of the latest to receive recognition in modern times. The matter
of many of the Chansons, under their later form of verse or prose
romances of chivalry, was indeed more or less known in the eighteenth
century. But an appreciation of their real age, value, and interest has
been the reward of the literary investigations of our own time. It was
not till 1837 that the oldest and the most remarkable of them was first
edited from the manuscript found in the Bodleian Library[18]. Since that
time investigation has been constant and fruitful, and there are now
more than one hundred of these interesting poems known.

[Sidenote: Origin of Chansons de Gestes.]

The origin and sources of the _Chansons de Gestes_ have been made a
matter of much controversy. We have already seen how, from the testimony
of historians and the existence of a few fragments, it appears that rude
lays or ballads in the different vernacular tongues of the country were
composed and sung if not written down at very early dates. According to
one theory, we are to look for the origin of the long and regular epics
of the eleventh and subsequent centuries in these rude compositions,
first produced independently, then strung together, and lastly subjected
to some process of editing and union. It has been sought to find proof
of this in the frequent repetitions which take place in the Chansons,
and which sometimes amount to the telling of the same incident over and
over again in slightly varying words. Others have seen in this
peculiarity only a result of improvisation in the first place, and
unskilful or at least uncritical copying in the second. This, however,
is a question rather interesting than important. What is certain is that
no literary source of the Chansons is now actually in existence, and
that we have no authentic information as to any such originals. At a
certain period--approximately given above--the fashion of narrative
poems on the great scale seems to have arisen in France. It spread
rapidly, and was eagerly copied by other nations.

[Sidenote: Definition.]

The definition of a _Chanson de Geste_ is as follows. It is a narrative
poem, dealing with a subject connected with French history, written in
verses of ten or twelve syllables, which verses are arranged in stanzas
of arbitrary length, each stanza possessing a distinguishing assonance
or rhyme in the last syllable of each line. The assonance, which is
characteristic of the earlier Chansons, is an imperfect rhyme, in which
identity of vowel sound is all that is necessary. Thus _traitor_,
_felon_, _compaingnons_, _manons_, _noz_, the first, fourth, and fifth
of which have no character of rhyme whatever in modern poetry, are
sufficient terminations for an assonanced poem, because the last vowel
sound, o, is identical. There is moreover in this versification a
regular caesura, sometimes after the fourth, sometimes after the sixth
syllable; and in a few of the older examples the stanzas, or as they are
sometimes called _laisses_, terminate in a shorter line than usual,
which is not assonanced. This metrical system, it will be observed, is
of a fairly elaborate character, a character which has been used as an
argument by those who insist on the existence of a body of ballad
literature anterior to the Chansons. We shall see in the following
chapters how this double definition of a _Chanson de Geste_, by matter
and by form, serves to exclude from the title other important and
interesting classes of compositions slightly later in date.

[Sidenote: Period of Composition.]

The period of composition of these poems extended, speaking roughly,
over three centuries. In the eleventh they began, but the beginnings are
represented only by _Roland_, the _Voyage de Charlemagne_, and perhaps
_Le Roi Louis_. Most and nearly all the best date from the twelfth. The
thirteenth century also produces them in great numbers, but by this time
a sensible change has come over their manner, and after the beginning of
the fourteenth only a few pieces deserving the title are written. They
then undergo transformation rather than neglect, and we shall meet them
at a later period in other forms. Before dealing with other general
characteristics of the early epics of France it will be well to give
some notion of them by actual selection and narrative. For this purpose
we shall take two Chansons typical of two out of the three stages
through which they passed. _Roland_ will serve as a sample of the
earliest, _Amis et Amiles_ of the second. Of the third, as less
characteristic in itself and less marked by uniform features, it will be
sufficient to give some account when we come to the compositions which
chiefly influenced it, namely the romances of Arthur and of antiquity.

[Sidenote: Chanson de Roland.]

The _Chanson de Roland_, the most ancient and characteristic of these
poems, though extremely popular in the middle ages[19], passed with them
into obscurity. The earliest allusion to the Oxford MS., which alone
represents its earliest form, was made by Tyrwhitt a century ago.
Conybeare forty years later dealt with it in the _Gentleman's Magazine_
of 1817, and by degrees the reviving interest of France in her older
literature attracted French scholars to this most important monument of
the oldest French. It was first published as a whole by M. F. Michel in
1837, and since that time it has been the subject of a very great amount
of study. Its length is 4001 decasyllabic lines, and it concludes with
an obscure assertion of authorship, publication or transcription by a
certain Turoldus[20]. The date of the Oxford MS. is probably the middle
of the twelfth century, but its text is attributed by the best
authorities to the end of the eleventh. There are other MSS., but they
are all either mutilated or of much later date. The argument of the poem
is as follows:--

Charlemagne has warred seven years in Spain, but king Marsile of
Saragossa still resists the Christian conqueror. Unable however to meet
Charlemagne in the field, he sends an embassy with presents and a
feigned submission, requesting that prince to return to France, whither
he will follow him and do homage. Roland opposes the reception of these
offers, Ganelon speaks in their favour, and so does Duke Naimes. Then
the question is who shall go to Saragossa to settle the terms. Roland
offers to go himself, but being rejected as too impetuous, suggests
Ganelon--a suggestion which bitterly annoys that knight and by
irritating him against Roland sows the seeds of his future treachery.
Ganelon goes to Marsile, and at first bears himself truthfully and
gallantly. The heathen king however undermines his faith, and a
treacherous assault on the French rearguard when Charlemagne shall be
too far off to succour it is resolved on and planned. Then the traitor
returns to Charles with hostages and mighty gifts. The return to France
begins; Roland is stationed to his great wrath in the fatal place, the
rest of the army marches through the Pyrenees, and meanwhile Marsile
gathers an enormous host to fall upon the isolated rearguard. There is a
long catalogue of the felon and miscreant knights and princes that
follow the Spanish king. The pagan host, travelling by cross paths of
the mountains, soon reaches and surrounds Roland and the peers. Oliver
entreats Roland to sound his horn that Charles may hear it and come to
the rescue, but the eager and inflexible hero refuses. Archbishop Turpin
blesses the doomed host, and bids them as the price of his absolution
strike hard. The battle begins and all its incidents are told. The
French kill thousands, but thousands more succeed. Peer after peer
falls, and when at last Roland blows the horn it is too late.
Charlemagne hears it and turns back in an agony of sorrow and haste. But
long before he reaches Roncevaux Roland has died last of his host, and
alone, for all the Pagans have fallen or fled before him.

The arrival of Charlemagne, his grief, and his vengeance on the Pagans,
should perhaps conclude the poem. There is however a sort of afterpiece,
in which the traitor Ganelon is tried, his fate being decided by a
single combat between his kinsman Pinabel and a champion named Thierry,
and is ruthlessly put to death with all his clansmen who have stood
surety for him. Episodes properly so called the poem has none, though
the character of Oliver is finely brought out as contrasted with
Roland's somewhat unreasoning valour, and there is one touching incident
when the poet tells how the Lady Aude, Oliver's sister and Roland's
betrothed, falls dead without a word when the king tells her of the
fatal fight at Roncevaux. The following passage will give an idea of the
style of this famous poem. It may be noticed that the curious refrain
_Aoi_ has puzzled all commentators, though in calling it a refrain we
have given the most probable explanation:--

      Rollanz s'en turnet, par le camp vait tut suls
    cercet les vals e si cercet les munz;
    iloec truvat Ivorie et Ivun,
    truvat Gerin, Gerer sun cumpaignun,
    iloec truvat Engeler le Gascun
    e si truvat Berenger e Orun,
    iloec truvat Anseïs e Sansun,
    truvat Gérard le veill de Russillun:
    par un e un les ad pris le barun,
    al arcevesque en est venuz atut,
    sis mist en reng dedevant ses genuilz.
    li arcevesque ne poet muër n'en plurt;
    lievet sa main, fait sa beneïçun;
    aprés ad dit 'mare fustes, seignurs!
    tutes voz anmes ait deus li glorïus!
    en pareïs les mete en seintes flurs!
    la meie mort me rent si anguissus,
    ja ne verrai le riche emperëur.'
      Rollanz s'en turnet, le camp vait recercer;
    desoz un pin e folut e ramer
    sun cumpaignun ad truved Oliver,
    cuntre sun piz estreit l'ad enbracet.
    si cum il poet al arcevesque en vent,
    sur un escut l'ad as altres culchet;
    e l'arcevesque l'ad asols e seignet.
    idonc agreget le doel e la pitet.
    ço dit Rollanz 'bels cumpainz Oliver,
    vos fustes filz al bon cunte Reiner,
    ki tint la marche de Genes desur mer;
    pur hanste freindre e pur escuz pecier
    e pur osberc e rompre e desmailler,
    [pur orgoillos veintre e esmaier]
    e pur prozdomes tenir e conseiller
    e pur glutuns e veintre e esmaier
    en nule terre n'ot meillor chevaler.'
      Li quens Rollanz, quant il veit morz ses pers
    e Oliver, qu'il tant poeit amer,
    tendrur en out, cumencet a plurer,
    en sun visage fut mult desculurez.
    si grant doel out que mais ne pout ester,
    voeillet o nun, a terre chet pasmet.
    dist l'arcevesques 'tant mare fustes, ber.'
      Li arcevesques quant vit pasmer Rollant,
    dunc out tel doel, unkes mais n'out si grant;
    tendit sa main, si ad pris l'olifan.
    en Rencesvals ad une ewe curant;
    aler i volt, si'n durrat a Rollant.
    tant s'esforçat qu'il se mist en estant,
    sun petit pas s'en turnet cancelant,
    il est si fieble qu'il ne poet en avant,
    nen ad vertut, trop ad perdut del sanc.
    einz que om alast un sul arpent de camp,
    fait li le coer, si est chaeit avant:
    la sue mort li vait mult angoissant.
      Li quenz Rollanz revient de pasmeisuns,
    sur piez se drecet, mais il ad grant dulur;
    guardet aval e si guardet amunt:
    sur l'erbe verte, ultre ses cumpaignuns,
    la veit gesir le nobilie barun,
    ço est l'arcevesque que deus mist en sun num;
    cleimet sa culpe, si reguardet amunt,
    cuntre le ciel amsdous ses mains ad juinz,
    si prïet deu que pareïs li duinst.
    morz est Turpin le guerreier Charlun.
    par granz batailles e par mult bels sermons
    cuntre paiens fut tuz tens campïuns.
    deus li otreit seinte beneïçun! Aoi.
      Quant Rollanz vit l'arcevesque qu'est morz,
    senz Oliver une mais n'out si grant dol,
    e dist un mot que destrenche le cor:
    'Carles de France chevalce cum il pot;
    en Rencesvals damage i ad des noz;
    li reis Marsilie ad sa gent perdut tot,
    cuntre un des noz ad ben quarante morz.'
      Li quenz Rollanz veit l'arcevesque a terre,
    defors sun cors veit gesir la buëlle,
    desuz le frunt li buillit la cervelle.
    desur sun piz, entre les dous furcelles,
    cruisiedes ad ses blanches mains, les belles.
    forment le pleint a la lei de sa terre.
    'e, gentilz hom, chevaler de bon aire,
    hoi te cumant al glorïus celeste:
    ja mais n'ert hume plus volenters le serve.
    des les apostles ne fut honc tel prophete
    pur lei tenir e pur humes atraire.
    ja la vostre anme nen ait doel ne sufraite!
    de pareïs li seit la porte uverte!'

[Sidenote: Amis et Amiles.]

As _Roland_ is by far the most interesting of those Chansons which
describe the wars with the Saracens, so _Amis et Amiles_[21] may be
taken as representing those where the interest is mainly domestic. _Amis
et Amiles_ is the earliest vernacular form of a story which attained
extraordinary popularity in the middle ages, being found in every
language and in most literary forms, prose and verse, narrative and
dramatic. This popularity may partly be assigned to the religious and
marvellous elements which it contains, but is due also to the intrinsic
merits of the story. The Chanson contains 3500 lines, dates probably
from the twelfth century, and is written, like _Roland_, in decasyllabic
verse, but, unlike _Roland_, has a shorter line of six syllables and not
assonanced at the end of each stanza. Its story is as follows:--

Amis and Amiles were two noble knights, born and baptized on the same
day, who had the Pope for sponsor, and whose comradeship was specially
sanctioned by a divine message, and by the miraculous likeness which
existed between them. They were however brought up, the one in Berri,
the other in Auvergne, and did not meet till both had received
knighthood. As soon as they had joined company, they resolved to offer
their services to Charles, and did him great service against rebels.
Here the action proper begins. The friends arouse the jealousy of
Hardré, a felon knight, of Ganelon's lineage and likeness. Hardré
engages Gombaud of Lorraine, an enemy of the Emperor, to attack the two
friends; but the treason does not succeed, and the traitor, to escape
unpleasant enquiries, recommends Charles to bestow his own niece Lubias
on Amiles. The latter declares that Amis deserves her better, and to
Amis she is married, bearing however no good-will to Amiles for his
resignation of her and for his firm hold on her husband's affection.
Meanwhile, the daughter of Charles, Bellicent, conceives a violent
passion for Amiles, and the traitor Hardré unfortunately becomes aware
of the matter. He at once accuses Amiles of treason, and the knight is
too conscious of the dubiousness of his cause to be very willing to
accept the wager of battle. From this difficulty he is saved by Amis,
who comes to Paris from his distant seignory of Blaivies (Blaye), and
fights the battle in the name and armour of his friend, while the latter
goes to Blaye and plays the part of his preserver. Both ventures are
made easier by the extraordinary resemblance of the pair. Amis is
successful; he slays Hardré, and then has no little difficulty in saving
himself from a forced marriage with Bellicent. This embroglio is
smoothed out, and Amiles and Bellicent are happily united. The generous
Amis however has not been able to avoid forswearing himself while
playing the part of Amiles; and this sin is punished, according to a
divine warning, by an attack of leprosy. His wife Lubias seizes the
opportunity, procures a separation from him, and almost starves him, or
would do so but for two faithful servants and his little son. At last a
means of cure is revealed to him. If Amiles and Bellicent will allow
their two sons to be slain the blood will recover Amis of his leprosy.
The stricken knight journeys painfully to his friend and tells him the
hard condition. Amiles does not hesitate, and the following passage
tells his deed:--

      Li cuens Amiles un petit s'atarja,
    vers les anfans pas por pas en ala,
    dormans les treuve, moult par les resgarda,
    s'espee lieve, ocirre les voldra;
    mais de ferir un petit se tarja.
    li ainznés freres de l'effroi s'esveilla
    que li cuens mainne qui en la chambre entra,
    l'anfes se torne, son pere ravisa,
    s'espee voit, moult grant paor en a,
    son pere apelle, si l'en arraisonna:
    'biax sire peres, por deu qui tout forma,
    que volez faire? nel me celez vos ja.
    ainz mais nus peres tel chose ne pensa.'
    'biaux sire fiuls, ocirre vos voil ja
    et le tien frere qui delez toi esta;
    car mes compains Amis qui moult m'ama,
    dou sanc de vos li siens cors garistra,
    que gietez est dou siecle.'
      'Biax tres douz peres,' dist l'anfes erramment,
    'quant vos compains avra garissement,
    se de nos sans a sor soi lavement,
    nos sommes vostre de vostre engenrement,
    faire en poëz del tout a vo talent.
    or nos copez les chiés isnellement;
    car dex de glorie nos avra en present,
    en paradis en irommes chantant
    et proierommes Jhesu cui tout apent
    que dou pechié vos face tensement,
    vos et Ami, vostre compaingnon gent;
    mais nostre mere, la bele Belissant,
    nos saluëz por deu omnipotent.'
    li cuens l'oït, moult grans pitiés l'en prent
    que touz pasmez a la terre s'estent.
    quant se redresce, si reprinst hardement.
    or orroiz ja merveilles, bonne gent,
    que tex n'oïstes en tout vostre vivant.
    li cuens Amiles vint vers le lit esrant,
    hauce l'espee, li fiuls le col estent.
    or est merveilles se li cuers ne li ment.
    la teste cope li peres son anfant,
    le sanc reciut et cler bacin d'argent:
    a poi ne chiet a terre.

No sooner has the blood touched Amis than he is cured, and the knights
solemnly visit the church where Bellicent and the people are assembled.
The story is told and the mother, in despair, rushes to the chamber
where her dead children are lying. But she finds them living and in full
health, for a miracle has been wrought to reward the faithfulness of the
friends now that suffering has purged them of their sin.

This story, touching in itself, is most touchingly told in the Chanson.
No poem of the kind is more vivid in description, or fuller of details
of the manners of the time, than _Amis et Amiles_. Bellicent and Lubias,
the former passionate and impulsive but loving and faithful, the latter
treacherous, revengeful, and cold-hearted, give perhaps the earliest
finished portraits of feminine character to be found in French
literature. Amis and Amiles themselves are presented to us under so many
more aspects than Roland and Oliver that they dwell better in the
memory. The undercurrent of savagery which distinguished mediæval times,
and the rapid changes of fortune which were possible therein, are also
well brought out. Not even the immolation of Ganelon's hostages is so
striking as the calm ferocity with which Charlemagne dooms his wife and
son as well as his daughter to pay with their lives the penalty of
Bellicent's fault; while the sudden lapse of Amis from his position of
feudal lordship at Blaye to that of a miserable outcast, smitten and
marked out for public scorn and ill-treatment by the visitation of God,
is unusually dramatic. _Amis et Amiles_ bears to _Roland_ something not
at all unlike the relation of the Odyssey to the Iliad. Its
continuation, _Jourdains de Blaivies_, adds the element of foreign
travel and adventure; but that element is perhaps more
characteristically represented, and the representation has certainly
been more generally popular, in _Huon de Bordeaux_.

[Sidenote: Other principal Chansons.]

Of the remaining Chansons, the following are the most remarkable.
_Aliscans_ (twelfth century) deals with the contest between William of
Orange, the great Christian hero of the south of France, and the
Saracens. This poem forms, according to custom, the centre of a whole
group of Chansons dealing with the earlier and later adventures of the
hero, his ancestors, and descendants. Such are _Le Couronnement Loys_,
_La Prise d'Orange_, _Le Charroi de Nimes_, _Le Moniage Guillaume_. The
series formed by these and others[22] is among the most interesting of
these groups. _Le Chevalier au Cygne_ is a title applied directly to a
somewhat late version of an old folk-tale, and more generally to a
series of poems connected with the House of Bouillon and the Crusades.
The members of this bear the separate headings _Antioche_[23], _Les
Chétifs_, _Les Enfances Godefroy_, etc. _Antioche_, the first of these,
which describes the exploits of the Christian host, first in attacking
and then in defending that city, is one of the finest of the Chansons,
and is probably in its original form not much later than the events it
describes, being written by an eye-witness. The variety of its
personages, the vivid picture of the alternations of fortune, the vigour
of the verse, are all remarkable. This group is terminated by _Baudouin
de Sebourc_[24], a very late but very important Chanson, which falls in
with the poetry of the fourteenth century, and the _Bastart de
Bouillon_[25]. _La Chevalerie Ogier de Danemarche_[26] is the oldest
form in which the adventures of one of the most popular and romantic of
Charlemagne's heroes are related. _Fierabras_ had also a very wide
popularity, and contains some of the liveliest pictures of manners to be
found in these poems, in its description of the rough horse-play of the
knights and the unfilial behaviour of the converted Saracen princess.
This poem is also of much interest philologically[27]. _Garin le
Loherain_[28] is the centre of a remarkable group dealing not directly
with Charlemagne, but with the provincial disputes and feuds of the
nobility of Lorraine. _Raoul de Cambrai_[29] is another of the Chansons
which deal with 'minor houses,' as they are called, in contradistinction
to the main Carlovingian cycle. _Gérard de Roussillon_[30] ranks as a
poem with the best of all the Chansons. _Hugues Capet_[31], though very
late, is attractive by reason of the glimpses it gives us of a new
spirit supplanting that of chivalry proper. In it the heroic distinctly
gives place to the burlesque. _Macaire_[32], besides being written in a
singular dialect, in which French is mingled with Italian, supplies the
original of the well-known dog of Montargis. _Huon de Bordeaux_[33],
already mentioned, was not only more than usually popular at the time of
its appearance, but has supplied Shakespeare with some of the dramatis
personae of _A Midsummer Night's Dream_, and Wieland and Weber with the
plot of a well-known poem and opera. _Jourdains de Blaivies_, the sequel
to _Amis et Amiles_, contains, besides much other interesting matter,
the incident which forms the centre of the plot of _Pericles_. _Les
Quatre Fils Aymon_ or _Renaut de Montauban_[34] is the foundation of one
of the most popular French chap-books. _Les Saisnes_[35] deals with
Charlemagne's wars with Witekind. _Berte aus grans Piés_[36] is a very
graceful story of womanly innocence. _Doon de Mayence_[37], though not
early, includes a charming love-episode. _Gérard de Viane_[38] contains
the famous battle of Roland and Oliver. The _Voyage de Charlemagne à
Constantinople_[39] is semi-burlesque in tone and one of the earliest in
which that tone is perceptible.

[Sidenote: Social and Literary Characteristics.]

In these numerous poems there is recognisable in the first place a
distinct family likeness which is common to the earliest and latest, and
in the second, the natural difference of manners which the lapse of
three hundred years might be expected to occasion. There is a sameness
which almost amounts to monotony in the plot of most Chansons de Gestes:
the hero is almost always either falsely accused of some crime, or else
treacherously exposed to the attacks of Saracens, or of his own
countrymen. The agents of this treachery are commonly of the blood of
the arch-traitor Ganelon, and are almost invariably discomfited by the
good knight or his friends and avengers. The part[40] which Charlemagne
plays in these poems is not usually dignified: he is represented as
easily gulled, capricious, and almost ferocious in temper, ungrateful,
and ready to accept bribes and gifts. His good angel is always Duke
Naimes of Bavaria, the Nestor of the Carlovingian epic. In the earliest
Chansons the part played by women is not so conspicuous as in the later,
but in all except _Roland_ it has considerable prominence. Sometimes the
heroine is the wife, daughter, or niece of Charlemagne, sometimes a
Saracen princess. But in either case she is apt to respond without much
delay to the hero's advances, which, indeed, she sometimes anticipates.
The conduct of knights to their ladies is also far from being what we
now consider chivalrous. Blows are very common, and seem to be taken by
the weaker sex as matters of course. The prevailing legal forms are
simple and rather sanguinary. The judgment of God, as shown by ordeal of
battle, settles all disputes; but battle is not permitted unless several
nobles of weight and substance come forward as sponsors for each
champion; and sponsors as well as principal risk their lives in case of
the principal's defeat, unless they can tempt the king's cupidity. These
common features are necessarily in the case of so large a number of
poems mixed with much individual difference, nor are the Chansons by any
means monotonous reading. Their versification is pleasing to the ear,
and their language, considering its age, is of surprising strength,
expressiveness, and even wealth. Though they lack the variety, the
pathos, the romantic chivalry, and the mystical attractions of the
Arthurian romances, there is little doubt that they paint, far more
accurately than their successors, an actually existing state of society,
that which prevailed in the palmy time of the feudal system, when war
and religion were deemed the sole subjects worthy to occupy seriously
men of station and birth. In giving utterance to this warlike and
religious sentiment, few periods and classes of literature have been
more strikingly successful. Nowhere is the mere fury of battle better
rendered than in _Roland_ and _Fierabras_. Nowhere is the valiant
indignation of the beaten warrior, and, at the same time, his humble
submission to providence, better given than in _Aliscans_. Nowhere do we
find the mediæval spirit of feudal enmity and private war more
strikingly depicted than in the cycle of the Lorrainers, and in _Raoul
de Cambrai_. Nowhere is the devout sentiment and belief of the same time
more fully drawn than in _Amis et Amiles_.

[Sidenote: Authorship.]

The method of composition and publication of these poems was peculiar.
Ordinarily, though not always, they were composed by the Trouvère, and
performed by the Jongleur. Sometimes the Trouvère condescended to
performance, and sometimes the Jongleur aspired to composition, but not
usually. The poet was commonly a man of priestly or knightly rank, the
performer (who might be of either sex) was probably of no particular
station. The Jongleur, or Jongleresse, wandered from castle to castle,
reciting the poems, and interpolating in them recommendations of the
quality of the wares, requests to the audience to be silent, and often
appeals to their generosity. Some of the manuscripts which we now
possess were originally used by Jongleurs, and it was only in this way
that the early Chanson de Geste was intended to be read. The process of
hawking about naturally interfered with the preservation of the poems in
their original purity, and even with the preservation of the author's
name. In very few cases[41] is the latter known to us.

The question whether the Chansons de Gestes were originally written in
northern or southern French has often been hotly debated. The facts are
these. Only three Chansons exist in Provençal. Two of these[42] are
admitted translations or imitations of Northern originals. The third,
_Girartz de Rossilho_, is undoubtedly original, but is written in the
northernmost dialect of the Southern tongue. The inference appears to be
clear that the Chanson de Geste is properly a product of northern
France. The opposite conclusion necessitates the supposition that either
in the Albigensian war, or by some inexplicable concatenation of
accidents, a body of original Provençal Chansons has been totally
destroyed, with all allusions to, and traditions of, these poems. Such a
hypothesis is evidently unreasonable, and would probably never have been
started had not some of the earliest students of Old French been
committed by local feeling to the championship of the language of the
Troubadours. On the other hand, almost all the dialects of Northern
French are represented, Norman and Picard being perhaps the

[Sidenote: Style and Language.]

The language of these poems, as the extracts given will partly show, is
neither poor in vocabulary, nor lacking in harmony of sound. It is
indeed, more sonorous and stately than classical French language was
from the seventeenth century to the days of Victor Hugo, and abounds in
picturesque terms which have since dropped out of use. The massive
castles of the baronage, with their ranges of marble steps leading up to
the hall, where feasting is held by day and where the knights sleep at
night, are often described. Dress is mentioned with peculiar lavishness.
Pelisses of ermine, ornaments of gold and silver, silken underclothing,
seem to give the poets special pleasure in recording them. In no
language are what have been called 'perpetual' epithets more usual,
though the abundance of the recurring phrases prevents monotony. The
'clear countenances' of the ladies, the 'steely brands' of the knights,
their 'marble palaces,' the 'flowing beard' of Charlemagne, the
'guileful tongue' of the traitors, are constant features of the verbal
landscape. From so great a mass of poetry it would be vain in any space
here available to attempt to arrange specimen 'jewels five words long.'
But those who actually read the Chansons will be surprised at the
abundance of fresh striking and poetic phrase.

[Sidenote: Later History.]

Before quitting the subject of the Chansons de Gestes, it may be well to
give briefly their subsequent literary history. They were at first
frequently re-edited, the tendency always being to increase their
length, so that in some cases the latest versions extant run to thirty
or forty thousand lines. As soon as this limit was reached, they began
to be turned into prose, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries being
the special period of this change. The art of printing came in time to
assist the spread of these prose versions, and for some centuries they
were almost the only form in which the Chansons de Gestes, under the
general title of romances of chivalry, were known. The verse originals
remained for the most part in manuscript, but the prose romances gained
an enduring circulation among the peasantry in France. From the
seventeenth century their vogue was mainly restricted to this class. But
in the middle of the eighteenth the Comte de Tressan was induced to
attempt their revival for the _Bibliothèque des Romans_. His versions
were executed entirely in the spirit of the day, and did not render any
of the characteristic features of the old Epics. But they drew attention
to them, and by the end of the century, University Professors began to
lecture on old French poetry. The exertions of M. Paulin Paris, of M.
Francisque Michel, and of some German scholars first brought about the
re-editing of the Chansons in their original form about half a century
ago; and since that time they have received steady attention, and a
large number have been published--a number to which additions are yearly
being made. Rather more than half the known total are now in print.


[17] _Gesta_ or _Geste_ has three senses: (_a_) the _deeds_ of a hero;
(_b_) the _chronicle_ of those deeds; and (_c_) the _family_ which that
chronicle illustrates. The three chief gestes are those of the King, of
Doon de Mayence, and of Garin de Montglane. Each of these is composed of
many poems. Contrasted with these are the 'petites gestes,' which
include only a few Chansons.

[18] _La Chanson de Roland_, ed. Fr. Michel, Paris, 1837. The MS. is in
the Bodleian Library (Digby 23). Another, of much later date in point of
writing but representing the same text, exists at Venice. Of later
versions there are six manuscripts extant. The Chanson de Roland has
since its _editio princeps_ been repeatedly re-edited, translated, and
commented. The most exact edition is that of Prof. Stengel, Heilbronn,
1878, who has given the Bodleian Manuscript both in print and in
photographic facsimile. The best for general use is that of Léon Gautier
(seventh edition), 1877.

[19] Wace (Roman de Rou, iii. 8038 Andresen) speaks of the Norman
Taillefer as singing at Hastings 'De Karlemaigne et de Rollant.' It has
been sought, but perhaps fancifully, to identify this song with the
existing _chanson_.

[20] 'Ci falt la geste que Turoldus declinet.' The sense of the word
_declinet_ is quite uncertain, and the attempts made to identify
Turoldus are futile.

[21] _Amis et Amiles_, ed. Hoffmann. Erlangen, 1852.

[22] This series is given, sometimes in whole, sometimes in extracts, by
Dr. Jonckbloet, _Guillaume d'Orange_. The Hague, 1854.

[23] Ed. P. Paris. Paris, 1848.

[24] Ed. Boca. Valenciennes, 1841.

[25] Ed. Schéler. Brussels, 1877.

[26] Ed. Barrois. Paris, 1842.

[27] There exists a Provençal version of it, evidently translated from
the French. The most convenient edition is that of Kroeber and Servois,
Paris, 1860. There is an English fourteenth-century version published by
Mr. Herrtage for the Early English Text Society, 1879.

[28] Published partially by MM. P. Paris and E. du Méril and by Herr

[29] Ed. Le Glay. Paris, 1840.

[30] Ed. Michel. Paris, 1856.

[31] Ed. La Grange. Paris, 1864.

[32] Ed. Guessard. Paris, 1866.

[33] Ed. Guessard et Grandmaison. Paris, 1860.

[34] Ed. Michelant. Stuttgart, 1862.

[35] Ed. Michel. Paris, 1839.

[36] Ed. Schéler. Brussels, 1874.

[37] Ed. Pey. Paris, 1859.

[38] Ed. Tarbé. Rheims, 1850.

[39] Ed. Michel. London, 1836.

[40] It is very commonly said that this feature is confined to the later
Chansons. This is scarcely the fact, unless by 'later' we are to
understand all except _Roland_. In _Roland_ itself the presentment is by
no means wholly complimentary.

[41] The Turoldus of _Roland_ has been already noticed. Of certain or
tolerably certain authors, Graindor de Douai (revisions of the early
crusading Chansons of 'Richard the Pilgrim,' _Antioche_, &c.), Jean de
Flagy (_Garin_), Bodel (_Les Saisnes_), and Adenès le Roi, a fertile
author or adapter of the thirteenth century, are the most noted.

[42] _Ferabras_ and _Betonnet d'Hanstone_. M. Paul Meyer has recently
edited this latter poem under the title of _Daurel et Beton_ (Paris,
1880). To these should be added a fragment, _Aigar et Maurin_, which
seems to rank with _Girartz_.

[43] There has been some reaction of late years against the scepticism
which questioned the 'Provençal Epic.' I cannot however say, though I
admit a certain disqualification for judgment (see note at beginning of
next chapter), that I see any valid reason for this reaction.



[Sidenote: Langue d'Oc.]

The Romance language, spoken in the country now called France, has two
great divisions, the Langue d'Oc and the Langue d'Oil[44], which stand
to one another in hardly more intimate relationship than the first of
them does to Spanish or Italian. In strictness, the Langue d'Oc ought
not to be called French at all, inasmuch as those who spoke it applied
that term exclusively to Northern speech, calling their own Limousin, or
Provençal, or Auvergnat. At the time, moreover, when Provençal
literature flourished, the districts which contributed to it were in
very loose relationship with the kingdom of France; and when that
relationship was drawn tighter, Provençal literature began to wither and
die. Yet it is not possible to avoid giving some sketch of the literary
developments of Southern France in any history of French literature, as
well because of the connection which subsisted between the two branches,
as because of the altogether mistaken views which have been not
unfrequently held as to that connection. Lord Macaulay[45] speaks of
Provençal in the twelfth century as 'the only one of the vernacular
languages of Europe which had yet been extensively employed for literary
purposes;' and the ignorance of their older literature which, until a
very recent period, distinguished Frenchmen has made it common for
writers in France to speak of the Troubadours as their own literary
ancestors. We have already seen that this supposition as applied to Epic
poetry is entirely false; we shall see hereafter that, except as regards
some lyrical developments, and those not the most characteristic, it is
equally ill-grounded as to other kinds of composition. But the
literature of the South is quite interesting enough in itself without
borrowing what does not belong to it, and it exhibits not a few
characteristics which were afterwards blended with those of the
literature of the kingdom at large.

[Sidenote: Range and characteristics.]

The domain of the Langue d'Oc is included between two lines, the
northernmost of which starts from the Atlantic coast at or about the
Charente, follows the northern boundaries of the old provinces of
Perigord, Limousin, Auvergne, and Dauphiné, and overlaps Savoy and a
small portion of Switzerland. The southern limit is formed by the
Pyrenees, the Gulf of Lyons, and the Alps, while Catalonia is overlapped
to the south-west just as Savoy is taken in on the north-east. This wide
district gives room for not a few dialectic varieties with which we need
not here busy ourselves. The general language is distinguished from
northern French by the survival to a greater degree of the vowel
character of Latin. The vocabulary is less dissolved and corroded by
foreign influence, and the inflections remain more distinct. The result,
as in Spanish and Italian, is a language more harmonious, softer, and
more cunningly cadenced than northern French, but endowed with far less
vigour, variety, and freshness. The separate development of the two
tongues must have begun at a very early period. A few early monuments,
such as the Passion of Christ[46] and the Mystery of the Ten
Virgins[47], contain mixed dialects. But the earliest piece of
literature in pure Provençal is assigned in its original form to the
tenth century, and is entirely different from northern French[48]. It is
arranged in _laisses_ and assonanced. The uniformity, however, of the
terminations of Provençal makes the assonances more closely approach
rhyme than is the case in northern poetry. Of the eleventh century the
principal monuments are a few charters, a translation of part of St.
John's Gospel, and several religious pieces in prose and verse. Not
till the extreme end of this century does the Troubadour begin to make
himself heard. The earliest of these minstrels whose songs we possess is
William IX, Count of Poitiers. With him Provençal literature, properly
so called, begins.

[Sidenote: Periods of Provençal Literature.]

The admirable historian of Provençal literature, Karl Bartsch, divides
its products into three periods; the first reaching to the end of the
eleventh century, and comprising the beginnings and experiments of the
language as a literary medium; the second covering the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries, the most flourishing time of the Troubadour
poetry, and possessing also specimens of many other forms of literary
composition; the third, the period of decadence, including the
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and remarkable chiefly for some
religious literature, and for the contests of the Toulouse school of
poets. In a complete history of Provençal literature notice would also
have to be taken of the fitful and spasmodic attempts of the last four
centuries to restore the dialect to the rank of a literary language,
attempts which have never been made with greater energy and success than
in our own time[49], but which hardly call for notice here.

[Sidenote: First Period.]

The most remarkable works of the first period have been already alluded
to. This period may possibly have produced original epics of the Chanson
form, though, as has been pointed out, no indications of any such exist,
except in the solitary instance of _Girartz de Rossilho_. The important
poem of Auberi of Besançon on Alexander is lost, except the first
hundred verses. It is thought to be the oldest vernacular poem on the
subject, and is in a mixed dialect partaking of the forms both of north
and south. Hymns, sometimes in mixed Latin and Provençal, sometimes
entirely in the latter, are found early. A single prose monument remains
in the shape of a fragmentary translation of the Gospel of St. John. But
by far the most important example of this period is the _Boethius_. The
poem, as we have it, extends to 238 decasyllabic verses arranged on the
fashion of a Chanson de Geste, and dates from the eleventh century, or
at latest from the beginning of the twelfth, but is thought to be a
rehandling of another poem which may have been written nearly two
centuries earlier. The narrative part of the work is a mere
introduction, the bulk of it consisting of moral reflections taken from
the _De Consolatione_.

[Sidenote: Second Period.]

It is only in the second period that Provençal literature becomes of
real importance. The stimulus which brought it to perfection has been
generally taken to be that of the crusades, aided by the great
development of peaceful civilisation at home which Provence and
Languedoc then saw. The spirit of chivalry rose and was diffused all
over Europe at this time, and in some of its aspects it received a
greater welcome in Provence than anywhere else. For the mystical, the
adventurous, and other sides of the chivalrous character, we must look
to the North, and especially to the Arthurian legends, and the Romans
d'Aventures which they influenced. But, for what has been well called
'la passion souveraine, aveugle, idolâtre, qui éclipse tous les autres
sentiments, qui dédaigne tous les devoirs, qui se moque de l'enfer et du
ciel, qui absorbe et possède l'âme entière[50],' we must come to the
literature of the south of France. Passion is indeed not the only motive
of the Troubadours, but it is their favourite motive, and their most
successful. The connection of this predominant instinct with the
elaborate and unmatched attention to form which characterises them is a
psychological question very interesting to discuss, but hardly suitable
to these pages. It is sufficient here to say that these various motives
and influences produced the Troubadours and their literature. This
literature was chiefly lyrical in form, but also included many other
kinds, of which a short account may be given.

_Girartz de Rossilho_ belongs in all probability to the earliest years
of the period, though the only Provençal manuscript in existence dates
from the end of the thirteenth century. In the third decade of the
twelfth Guillem Bechada had written a poem on the conquest of Jerusalem
by the Crusaders, which, however, has perished, though the northern
cycle of the Chevalier au Cygne may represent it in part. Guillem of
Poitiers also wrote a historical poem on the Crusades with similar ill
fate. But the most famous of historical poems in Provençal has
fortunately been preserved to us. This is the chronicle of the
Albigensian War, written in Alexandrines by William of Tudela and an
anonymous writer. We also possess a rhymed chronicle of the war of
1276-77 in Navarre, by Guillem Anelier. In connection with the Arthurian
cycle there exists a Provençal Roman d'Aventures, entitled _Jaufré_. The
testimony of Wolfram von Eschenbach would appear to be decisive as to
the existence of a Provençal continuation of Chrestien's _Percevale_ by
a certain Kiot or Guyot, but nothing more is known of this. _Blandin de
Cornoalha_ is another existing romance, and so is the far more
interesting _Flamenca_, a lively picture of manners dating from the
middle of the thirteenth century. In shorter and slighter narrative
poems Provençal is still less fruitful, though Raimon Vidal, Arnaut de
Zurcasses, and one or two other writers have left work of this kind. A
very few narrative poems of a sacred character are also found, and
vestiges of drama may be traced. But, as we have said, the real
importance of the period consists in its lyrical poetry, the poetry of
the Troubadours. The names of 460 separate poets are given, and 251
pieces have come down to us without the names of their writers. We have
here no space for dwelling on individual persons; it is sufficient to
mention as the most celebrated Arnaut Daniel, Bernart de Ventadorn,
Bertran de Born, Cercamon, Folquet de Marseilha, Gaucelm Faidit, Guillem
of Poitiers, Guillem de Cabestanh, Guiraut de Borneilh, Guiraut Riquier,
Jaufre Rudel, Marcabrun, Peire Cardenal, Peire Vidal, Peirol, Raimbaut
de Vaqueiras, Sordel.

[Sidenote: Forms of Troubadour Poetry.]

The chief forms in which these poets exercised their ingenuity were as
follows. The simplest and oldest was called simply _vers_; it had few
artificial rules, was written in octosyllabic lines, and arranged in
stanzas. From this was developed the _canso_, the most usual of
Provençal forms. Here the rhymes were interlaced, and the alternation of
masculine and feminine by degrees observed. The length of the lines
varied. Both these forms were consecrated to love verse; the Sirvente,
on the other hand, is panegyrical or satirical, its meaning being
literally 'Song of Service.' It consisted for the most part of short
stanzas, simply rhyme, and corresponding exactly to one another. The
_planh_ or Complaint was a dirge or funeral song written generally in
decasyllabics. The _tenson_ or debate is in dialogue form, and when
there are more than two disputants is called _torneijamens_. The
narrative Romance existed in Provençal as well as the _balada_ or
three-stanza poem, usually with refrain. The _retroensa_ is a longer
refrain poem of later date, but in neither is the return of the same
rhyme in each stanza necessarily observed, as in the French _ballade_.
The _alba_ is a leave-taking poem at morning, and the _serena_ (if it
can be called a form, for scarcely more than a single example exists) a
poem of remembrance and longing at eventide. The _pastorela_, which had
numerous sub-divisions, explains itself. The _descort_ is a poem
something like the irregular ode, which varies the structure of its
stanzas. The _sextine_, in six stanzas of identical and complicated
versification, is the stateliest of all Provençal forms. Not merely the
rhymes but the words which rhyme are repeated on a regular scheme. The
_breu-doble_ (double-short) is a curious little form on three rhymes,
two of which are repeated twice in three four-lined stanzas, and given
once in a concluding couplet, while the third finishes each quatrain.
Other forms are often mentioned and given, but they are not of much

The prose of the best period of Provençal literature is of little
importance. Its most considerable remains, besides religious works and a
few scientific and grammatical treatises, are a prose version of the
_Chanson des Albigeois_, and an interesting collection of contemporary
lives of the Troubadours.

[Sidenote: Third Period.]

The productiveness of the last two centuries of Provençal literature
proper has been spoken of by the highest living authority as at most an
aftermath. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, Arnaut Vidal
wrote a Roman d'Aventures entitled _Guillem de la Barra_. This poet,
like most of the other literary names of the period, belongs to the
school of Toulouse, a somewhat artificial band of writers who flourished
throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, held poetical
tournaments on the first Sunday in May, invented or adopted the famous
phrase _gai saber_ for their pursuits, and received, if they were
successful, the equally famous Golden Violet and minor trinkets of the
same sort. The brotherhood directed itself by an art of poetry in which
the half-forgotten traditions of more spontaneous times were gathered

To this period, and to its latter part, the Waldensian writings entitled
_La Nobla Leyczon_, to which ignorance and sectarian enthusiasm had
given a much earlier date, are now assigned. There is also a
considerable mass of miscellaneous literature, but nothing of great
value, or having much to do with the only point which is here of
importance, the distinctive character of Provençal literature, and the
influence of that literature upon the development of letters in France
generally. With a few words on these two points this chapter may be

[Sidenote: Literary Relation of Provençal and French.]

[Sidenote: Defects of Provençal Literature.]

It may be regarded as not proven that any initial influence was
exercised over northern French literature by the literature of the
South, and more than this, it may be held to be unlikely that any such
influence was exerted. For in the first place all the more important
developments of the latter, the Epic, the Drama, the Fabliau, are
distinctly of northern birth, and either do not exist in Provençal at
all, or exist for the most part as imitations of northern originals.
With regard to lyric poetry the case is rather different. The earliest
existing lyrics of the North are somewhat later than the earliest songs
of the Troubadours, and no great lyrical variety or elegance is reached
until the Troubadours' work had, by means of Thibaut de Champagne and
others, had an opportunity of penetrating into northern France. On the
other hand, the forms which finished lyric adopted in the North are by
no means identical with those of the Troubadours. The scientific and
melodious figures of the Ballade, the Rondeau, the Chant-royal, the
Rondel, and the Villanelle, cannot by any ingenuity be deduced from
Canso or Balada, Retroensa or Breu-Doble. The Alba and the Pastorela
agree in subject with the Aubade and the Pastourelle, but have no
necessary or obvious connection of form. It would, however, be almost as
great a mistake to deny the influence of the spirit of Provençal
literature over French, as to regard the two as standing in the
position of mother and daughter. The Troubadours undoubtedly preceded
their Northern brethren in scrupulous attention to poetical form, and in
elaborate devices for ensuring such attention. They preceded them too in
recognising that quality in poetry for which there is perhaps no other
word than elegance. There can be little doubt that they sacrificed to
these two divinities, elegance and the formal limitation of verse,
matters almost equally if not more important. The motives of their poems
are few, and the treatment of those motives monotonous. Love, war, and
personal enmity, with a certain amount of more or less frigid didactics,
almost complete the list. In dealing with the first and the most
fruitful, they fell into the deadly error of stereotyping their manner
of expression. Objection has sometimes been taken to the 'eternal
hawthorn and nightingale' of Provençal poetry. The objection would
hardly be fatal, if this eternity did not extend to a great many things
besides hawthorn and nightingales. In the later Troubadours especially,
the fault which has been urged against French dramatic literature just
before the Romantic movement was conspicuously anticipated. Every mood,
every situation of passion, was catalogued and analysed, and the proper
method of treatment, with similes and metaphors complete, was assigned.
There was no freshness and no variety, and in the absence of variety and
freshness, that of vigour was necessarily implied. It may even be
doubted whether the influence of this hot-house verse on the more
natural literature of the North was not injurious rather than
beneficial. Certain it is that the artificial poetry of the Trouvères
went (in the persons of the Rondeau and Ballade-writing Rhétoriqueurs of
the fifteenth century) the same way and came to the same end, that its
elder sister had already trodden and reached with the competitors for
the Violet, the Eglantine, and the Marigold of Toulouse.


[44] _Oc_ and _oil_ (_hoc_ and _hoc illud_), the respective terms
indicating affirmation. In this chapter the information given is based
on a smaller acquaintance at first hand with the subject than is the
case in the chapters on French proper. Herr Karl Bartsch has been the
guide chiefly followed.

[45] Essay on Ranke's History of the Popes.

[46] See chap. i.

[47] See chap. x.

[48] The poem on Boethius. See chap. i.

[49] By the school of the so-called _Félibres_, of whom Mistral and
Aubanel are the chief.

[50] Moland and Héricault's Introduction to _Aucassin et Nicolette_.
Paris, 1856.



[Sidenote: The Tale of Arthur. Its Origins.]

The passion for narrative poetry, which at first contented itself with
stories drawn from the history or tradition of France, took before very
long a wider range. The origin of the Legend of King Arthur, of the
Round Table, of the Holy Graal, and of all the adventures and traditions
connected with these centres, is one of the most intricate questions in
the history of mediaeval literature. It would be beyond the scope of
this book to attempt to deal with it at length. It is sufficient for our
purpose, in the first place, to point out that the question of the
actual existence and acts of Arthur has very little to do with the
question of the origin of the Arthurian cycle. The history of mediaeval
literature, as distinguished from the history of the Middle Ages, need
not concern itself with any conflict between the invaders and the older
inhabitants of England. The question which is of historical literary
interest is, whether the traditions which Geoffrey of Monmouth, Walter
Map, Chrestien de Troyes, and their followers, wrought into a fabric of
such astounding extent and complexity, are due to Breton originals, or
whether their authority is nothing but the ingenuity of Geoffrey working
upon the meagre data of Nennius[51]. As far as this question concerns
French literature, the chief champions of these rival opinions were till
lately M. de la Villemarqué and M. Paulin Paris. In no instance was the
former able to produce Breton or Celtic originals of early date. On the
other hand, M. Paris showed that Nennius is sufficient to account for
Geoffrey, and that Geoffrey is sufficient to account for the purely
Arthurian part of subsequent romances and chronicles. The religious
element of the cycle has a different origin, and may possibly not be
Celtic at all. Lastly, we must take into account a large body of Breton
and Welsh poetry from which, especially in the parts of the legend which
deal with Tristram, with King Mark, &c., amplifications have been
devised. It must, however, still be admitted that the extraordinary
rapidity with which so vast a growth of literature was produced,
apparently from the slenderest stock, is one of the most surprising
things in literary history. Before the middle of the twelfth century
little or nothing is heard of Arthur. Before that century closed at
least a dozen poems and romances in prose, many of them of great length,
had elaborated the whole legend as it was thenceforward received, and as
we have it condensed and Englished in Malory's well-known book two
centuries and a half later.

[Sidenote: Order of French Arthurian Cycle.]

The probable genesis of the Arthurian legend, in so far as it concerns
French literature, appears to be as follows. First in order of
composition, and also in order of thought, comes the Legend of Joseph of
Arimathea, sometimes called the 'Little St. Graal.' This we have both in
verse and prose, and one or both of these versions is the work of Robert
de Borron, a knight and _trouvère_ possessed of lands in the
Gâtinais[52]. There is nothing in this work which is directly connected
with Arthur. By some it has been attributed to a Latin, but not now
producible, 'Book of the Graal,' by others to Byzantine originals.
Anyhow it fell into the hands of the well-known Walter Map[53], and his
exhaustless energy and invention at once seized upon it. He produced the
'Great St. Graal,' a very much extended version of the early history of
the sacred vase, still keeping clear of definite connection with Arthur,
though tending in that direction. From this, in its turn, sprang the
original form of _Percevale_, which represents a quest for the vessel
by a knight who has not originally anything to do with the Round Table.
The link of connection between the two stories is to be found in the
_Merlin_, attributed also to Robert de Borron, wherein the Welsh legends
begin to have more definite influence. This, in its turn, leads to
_Artus_, which gives the early history of the great king. Then comes the
most famous, most extensive, and finest of all the romances, that of
_Lancelot du Lac_, which is pretty certainly in part, and perhaps in
great part, the work of Map; as is also the mystical and melancholy but
highly poetical _Quest of the Saint Graal_, a quest of which Galahad and
Lancelot, not, as in the earlier legends, Percival, are the heroes. To
this succeeds the _Mort Artus_, which forms the conclusion of the whole,
properly speaking. This, however, does not entirely complete the cycle.
Later than Borron, Map, and their unknown fellow-workers (if such they
had), arose one or more _trouvères_, who worked up the ancient Celtic
legends and lays of Tristram into the Romance of _Tristan_, connecting
this, more or less clumsily, with the main legend of the Round Table.
Other legends were worked up into the _omnium gatherum_ of _Giron le
Courtois_, and with this the cycle proper ceases. The later poems are
attributed to two persons, called Luce de Gast and Hélie de Borron. But
not the slightest testimony can be adduced to show that any such persons
ever had existence[54].

These prose romances form for the most part the original literature of
the Arthurian story. But the vogue of this story was very largely
increased by a _trouvère_ who used not prose but octosyllabic verse for
his medium.

[Sidenote: Chrestien de Troyes.]

As is the case with most of these early writers, little or nothing is
known of Chrestien de Troyes but his name. He lived in the last half of
the twelfth century, he was attached to the courts of Flanders,
Hainault, and Champagne, and he wrote most of his works for the lords of
these fiefs. Besides his Arthurian work he translated Ovid, and wrote
some short poems. Chrestien de Troyes deserves a higher place in
literature than has sometimes been given to him. His versification is so
exceedingly easy and fluent as to appear almost pedestrian at times; and
his _Chevalier à la Charrette_, by which he is perhaps most generally
known, contrasts unfavourably in its prolixity with the nervous and
picturesque prose to which it corresponds. But _Percevale_ and the
_Chevalier au Lyon_ are very charming poems, deeply imbued with the
peculiar characteristics of the cycle--religious mysticism, passionate
gallantry, and refined courtesy of manners. Chrestien de Troyes
undoubtedly contributed not a little to the popularity of the Arthurian
legends. Although, by a singular chance, which has not yet been fully
explained, the originals appear to have been for the most part in
prose, the times were by no means ripe for the general enjoyment of work
in such a form. The reciter was still the general if not the only
publisher, and recitation almost of necessity implied poetical form.
Chrestien did not throw the whole of the work of his contemporaries into
verse, but he did so throw a considerable portion of it. His Arthurian
works consist of _Le Chevalier à la Charrette_, a very close rendering
of an episode of Map's _Lancelot_; _Le Chevalier au Lyon_, resting
probably upon some previous work not now in existence; _Erec et Énide_,
the legend which every English reader knows in Mr. Tennyson's _Enid_,
and which seems to be purely Welsh; _Cligès_, which may be called the
first Roman d'Aventures; and lastly, _Percevale_, a work of vast extent,
continued by successive versifiers to the extent of some fifty thousand
lines, and probably representing in part a work of Robert de Borron,
which has only recently been printed by M. Hucher. _Percevale_ is,
perhaps, the best example of Chrestien's fashion of composition. The
work of Borron is very short, amounting in all to some ninety pages in
the reprint. The _Percevale le Gallois_ of Chrestien and his
continuators, on the other hand, contains, as has been said, more than
forty-five thousand verses. This amplification is produced partly by the
importation of incidents and episodes from other works, but still more
by indulging in constant diffuseness and what we must perhaps call

[Sidenote: Spirit and Literary value of Arthurian Romances.]

From a literary point of view the prose romances rank far higher,
especially those in which Map is known or suspected to have had a hand.
The peculiarity of what may be called their atmosphere is marked. An
elaborate and romantic system of mystical religious sentiment, finding
vent in imaginative and allegorical narrative, a remarkable refinement
of manners, and a combination of delight in battle with devotion to
ladies, distinguish them. This is, in short, the romantic spirit, or, as
it is sometimes called, the spirit of chivalry; and it cannot be too
positively asserted that the Arthurian romances communicate it to
literature for the first time, and that nothing like it is found in the
classics. In the work of Map and his contemporaries it is clearly
perceivable. The most important element in this--courtesy--is, as we
have already noticed, almost entirely absent from the Chansons de
Gestes, and where it is present at all it is between persons who are
connected by some natural or artificial relation of comradeship or kin.
Nor are there many traces of it in such fragments and indications as we
possess of the Celtic originals, which may have helped in the production
of the Arthurian romances. No Carlovingian knight would have felt the
horror of Sir Bors when the Lady of Hungerford exercises her undoubted
right by flinging the body of her captive enemy on the camp of his
uncle. Even the chiefs who are presented in the _Chanson d'Antioche_ as
joking over the cannibal banquet of the Roi des Tafurs, and permitting
the dead bodies of Saracens to be torn from the cemeteries and flung
into the beleaguered city, would have very much applauded the deed.
Gallantry, again, is as much absent from the Chansons as clemency and
courtesy. The scene in _Lancelot_, where Galahault first introduces the
Queen and Lancelot to one another, contrasts in the strongest manner
with the downright courtship by which the Bellicents and Nicolettes of
the Carlovingian cycle are won. No doubt Map represents to a great
extent the sentiments of the polished court of England. But he deserves
the credit of having been the first, or almost the first, to express
such manners and sentiments, perhaps also of having being among the
first to conceive them.

These originals are not all equally represented in Malory's English
compilation. Of Robert de Borron's work little survives except by
allusion. _Lancelot du Lac_ itself, the most popular of all the
romances, is very disproportionately drawn upon. Of the youth of
Lancelot, of the winning of Dolorous Gard, of the war with the Saxons,
and of the very curious episode of the false Guinevere, there is
nothing; while the most charming story of Lancelot's relations with
Galahault of Sorelois disappears, except in a few passing allusions to
the 'haughty prince.' On the other hand, the _Quest of the Saint Graal_,
the _Mort Artus_, some episodes of _Lancelot_ (such as the _Chevalier à
la Charrette_), and many parts of _Tristan_ and _Giron le Courtois_, are
given almost in full.

It seems also probable that considerable portions of the original form
of the Arthurian legends are as yet unknown, and have altogether
perished. The very interesting discovery in the Brussels Library, of a
prose _Percevale_ not impossibly older than Chrestien, and quite
different from that of Borron, is an indication of this fact. So also is
the discovery by Dr. Jonckbloet in the Flemish _Lancelot_, which he has
edited, of passages not to be found in the existing and recognised
French originals. The truth would appear to be that the fascination of
the subject, the unusual genius of those who first treated it, and the
tendency of the middle ages to favour imitation, produced in a very
short space of time (the last quarter or half of the twelfth century) an
immense amount of original handling of Geoffrey's theme. To this
original period succeeded one of greater length, in which the legends
were developed not merely by French followers and imitators of
Chrestien, but by his great German adapters, Wolfram von Eschenbach,
Gottfried of Strasburg, Hartmann von der Aue, and by other imitators at
home and abroad. Lastly, as we shall see in a future chapter, come
Romans d'Aventures, connecting themselves by links more or less
immediate with the Round Table cycle, but independent and often quite
separate in their main incidents and catastrophes.

The great number, length, and diversity of the Arthurian romances make
it impossible in the space at our command to abstract all of them, and
useless to select any one, inasmuch as no single poem is (as in the case
of the Chansons) typical of the group. The style, however, of the prose
and verse divisions may be seen in the following extracts from the
_Chevalier à la Charrette_ of Map, and the verse of Chrestien:--

     Atant sont venu li chevalier jusqu'au pont: lors commencent
     à plorer top durement tuit ensamble. Et Lanceloz lor demande
     porquoi il plorent et font tel duel? Et il dient que c'est
     por l'amor de lui, que trop est perillox li ponz. Atant
     esgarde Lanceloz l'ève de çà et de là: si voit que ele est
     noire et coranz. Si avint que sa véue torna devers la cité,
     si vit la tor où la raïne estoit as fenestres. Lanceloz
     demande quel vile c'est là?--'Sire, font-il, c'est le leus
     où la raïne est.' Si li noment la cité. Et il lor dit: 'Or
     n'aiez garde de moi, que ge dont mains le pont que ge onques
     mès ne fis, nè il n'est pas si périlleux d'assez comme ge
     cuidoie. Mès moult a de là outre bele tor, et s'il m'i
     voloient hébergier il m'i auroient encor ennuit à hoste.'
     Lors descent et les conforte toz moult durement, et lor dit
     que il soient ausinc tout asséur comme il est. Il li lacent
     les pans de son hauberc ensenble et li cousent à gros fil de
     fer qu'il avoient aporté, et ses manches méesmes li cousent
     dedenz ses mains, et les piez desoz; et à bone poiz chaude
     li ont péez les manicles et tant d'espès comme il ot entre
     les cuisses. Et ce fu por miauz tenir contre le trenchant de

     Quant il orent Lancelot atorné et bien et bel si lor prie
     que il s'en aillent. Et il s'en vont, et le font naigier
     outre l'ève, et il enmainent son cheval. Et il vient à la
     planche droit: puis esgarde vers la tor où la raïne estoit
     en prison, si li encline. Après fet le signe de la verroie
     croiz enmi son vis, et met son escu derriers son dos, qu'il
     ne li nuise. Lors se met desor la planche en chevauchons, si
     se traïne par desus si armez comme il estoit, car il ne li
     faut ne hauberc ne espée ne chauces ne heaume ne escu. Et
     cil de la tor qui le véoient en sont tuit esbahï, ne il n'i
     a nul ne nule qui saiche veroiement qui il est; mès qu'il
     voient qu'il traïne pardesus l'espée trenchant à la force
     des braz et à l'enpaignement des genouz; si ne remaint pas
     por les filz de fer que des piez et des mains et des genous
     ne saille li sanz. Mès por cel péril de l'espée qui trenche
     et por l'ève noire et bruiant et parfonde ne remaint que
     plus ne resgart vers la tor que vers l'ève, ne plaie ne
     angoisse qu'il ait ne prise naient; car se il à cele tor
     pooit venir il garroit tot maintenant de ses max. Tant s'est
     hertiez et traïnez qu'il est venuz jusqu'à terre.

This becomes in the poem a passage more than 100 lines long, of which
the beginning and end may be given:--

    Le droit chemin vont cheminant,
    Tant que li jors vet déclinant,
    Et vienent au pon de l'espée
    Après none, vers la vesprée.
    Au pié del' pont, qui molt est max,
    Sont descendu de lor chevax,
    Et voient l'ève félenesse
    Noire et bruiant, roide et espesse,
    Tant leide et tant espoantable
    Com se fust li fluns au déable;
    Et tant périlleuse et parfonde
    Qu'il n'est riens nule an tot le monde
    S'ele i chéoit, ne fust alée
    Ausi com an la mer betée.
    Et li ponz qui est an travers
    Estoit de toz autres divers,
    Qu'ainz tex ne fu ne jamès n'iert.
    Einz ne fu, qui voir m'an requiert,
    Si max pont ne si male planche:
    D'une espée forbie et blanche
    Estoit li ponz sor l'ève froide.
    Mès l'espée estoit forz et roide,
    Et avoit deus lances de lonc.
    De chasque part ot uns grant tronc
    Où l'espée estoit cloffichiée.
    Jà nus ne dot que il i chiée.
    Porce que ele brist ne ploit.
    Si ne sanble-il pas qui la voit
    Qu'ele puisse grant fès porter.
    Ce feisoit molt desconforter
    Les deus chevaliers qui estoient
    Avoec le tierz, que il cuidoient
    Que dui lyon ou dui liepart
    Au chief del' pont de l'autre part
    Fussent lié à un perron.
    L'ève et li ponz et li lyon
    Les metent an itel fréor
    Que il tranblent tuit de péor.

      *  *  *  *  *  *

    Cil ne li sèvent plus que dire,
    Mès de pitié plore et sopire
    Li uns et li autres molt fort.
    Et cil de trespasser le gort
    Au mialz que il set s'aparoille,
    Et fet molt estrange mervoille,
    Que ses piez désire et ses mains.
    N'iert mie toz antiers nè sains
    Quant de l'autre part iert venuz.
    Bien s'iert sor l'espée tenuz,
    Qui plus estoit tranchanz que fauz,
    As mains nues et si deschauz
    Que il ne s'est lessiez an pié
    Souler nè chauce n'avanpié.
    De ce guères ne s'esmaioit
    S'ès mains et ès piez se plaioit;
    Mialz se voloit-il mahaignier
    Que chéoir el pont et baignier
    An l'ève dont jamès n'issist.
    A la grant dolor con li sist
    S'an passe outre et à grant destrece:
    Mains et genolz et piez se blece.
    Mès tot le rasoage et sainne
    Amors qui le conduist et mainne:
    Si li estoit à sofrir dolz.
    A mains, à piez et à genolz
    Fet tant que de l'autre part vient.

[Sidenote: Romances of Antiquity. Chanson d'Alixandre.]

About the same time as the flourishing of the Arthurian cycle there
began to be written the third great division of Jean Bodel, 'la matière
de Rome la grant[55].' The most important beyond all question of the
poems which go to make up this cycle (as it is sometimes called, though
in reality its members are quite independent one of the other) is the
Romance of _Alixandre_. Of the earliest French poem on this subject only
a few fragments exist. This is supposed to have been a work of the
eleventh or very early twelfth century, composed in octosyllabic verses,
and in the mixed dialect common at the time in the south-east, by
Alberic or Auberi of Besançon or Briançon. The _Chanson d'Alixandre_ is,
however, in all probability a much more important work than Alberic's.
It is in form a regular Chanson de Geste, written in twelve-syllabled
verse, of such strength and grace that the term Alexandrine has cleaved
ever since to the metre. Its length, as we have it[56], is 22,606
verses, and it is assigned to two authors, Lambert the Short[57] and
Alexander of Bernay, though doubt has been expressed whether any of the
present poem is due to Lambert; if we have any of his work, it is not
later than the ninth decade of the twelfth century. Lambert, Alexander,
and perhaps others, are thought to have known not Alberic, but a later
ten-syllabled version into Northern French by Simon of Poitiers. The
remoter sources are various. Foremost among them may undoubtedly be
placed the Pseudo-Callisthenes, an unknown Alexandrian writer translated
into Latin about the fourth century by Julius Valerius, who fathered
upon the philosopher a collection of stories partly gathered from
Plutarch, Quintus Curtius, and a hundred other authorities, partly
elaborated according to the fashion of Greek romancers. Some oriental
traditions of Alexander were also in the possession of western Europe.
Out of all these, and with a considerable admixture of the floating
fables of the time, Lambert and Alexander wove their work. There is, of
course, not the slightest attempt at antiquity of colour. Alexander has
twelve peers, he learns the favourite studies of the middle ages, he is
dubbed knight, and so forth. Many interesting legends, such as that of
the Fountain of Perpetual Youth, make their first appearance in the
poem, and it is altogether one of extraordinary merit. A specimen
_laisse_ may be given:--

    En icele forest, dont vos m'oëz conter,
    nesune male choze ne puet laianz entrer.
    li home ne les bestes n'i ozent converser,
    onques en nesun tans ne vit hon yverner
    ne trop froit ne trop chaut ne neger ne geler.
    ce conte l'escripture que hom n'i doit entrer,
    se il nen at talent de conquerre ou d'amer.
    les deuesses d'amors i doivent habiter,
    car c'est lor paradix ou el doivent entrer,
    li rois de Macedoine en a oï parler,
    qui cercha les merveilles dou mont et de la mer,
    et ce fist il meïsmes enz ou fons avaler
    en un vessel de voirre, ce ne puet n'on fausser,
    qu'il fist faire il meïsmes fort et rëont et cler
    et enclorre de fer qu'il ne pëust quasser,
    s'il l'estëust a roche ou aillors ahurter,
    et si que il poet bien par mi outre esgarder,
    por vëoir les poissons tornoier et joster
    et faire lor agaiz et sovent cembeler.
    et quant il vint a terre, nou mist a oublïer:
    la prist la sapïence dou mont a conquester
    et faire ses agaiz et sa gent ordener
    et conduire les oz et sagement mener,
    car ce fust toz li mieudres qui ainz pëust monter
    en cheval por conquerre ne de lance joster,
    li gentiz et li larges et ii prex por doner.
    la forest des puceles ot oï deviser,
    cil qui tot volt conquerre i ot talent d'aler:
    souz ciel n'a home en terre qui l'en pëust torner.

While the figure of Alexander served as centre to one group of fictions,
most of which were composed in Chanson form, the octosyllabic metre,
which had made the Arthurian romances its own, was used for the
versification of another numerous class, most of which dealt with the
tale of Troy divine.

[Sidenote: Roman de Troie.]

Here also the poems were neither entirely fictitious, nor on the other
hand based upon the best authorities. Dares Phrygius and Dictys
Cretensis, with some epitomes of Homer, were the chief sources of
information. The principal poem of this class is the _Roman de Troie_ of
Benoist de Sainte More (_c._ 1160). This work[58], which extends to more
than thirty thousand verses, has the redundancy and the long-windedness
which characterise many, if not most, early French poems written in its
metre. But it has one merit which ought to conciliate English readers to
Benoist. It contains the undoubted original of Shakespeare's Cressida.
The fortunes of Cressid (or Briseida, as the French trouvère names her)
have been carefully traced out by MM. Moland, Héricault[59], and Joly,
and form a very curious chapter of literary history. Nor is this episode
the only one of merit in Benoist. His verse is always fluent and facile,
and not seldom picturesque, as the following extract (Andromache's
remonstrance with Hector) will show:--

    Quant elle voit qe nëant iert,
    o ses dous poinz granz cous se fiert,
    fier duel demaine e fier martire,
    ses cheveus trait e ront e tire.
    bien resemble feme desvee:
    tote enragiee, eschevelee,
    e trestote fors de son sen
    court pour son fil Asternaten.
    des eux plore molt tendrement,
    entre ses braz l'encharge e prent.
    vint el palés atot arieres,
    o il chauçoit ses genoillieres.
    as piez li met e si li dit
    'sire, por cest enfant petit
    qe tu engendras de ta char
    te pri nel tiegnes a eschar
    ce qe je t'ai dit e nuncié.
    aies de cest enfant pitié:
    jamés des euz ne te verra.
    s'ui assembles a ceux de la,
    hui est ta mort, hui est ta fins.
    de toi remandra orfenins.
    cruëlz de cuer, lous enragiez,
    par qoi ne vos en prent pitiez?
    par qoi volez si tost morir?
    par qoi volez si tost guerpir
    et moi e li e vostre pere
    e voz serors e vostre mere?
    par qoi nos laisseroiz perir?
    coment porrons sens vos gerir?
    lasse, com male destinee!'
    a icest not chaï pasmee
    a cas desus le paviment.
    celle l'en lieve isnelement
    qi estrange duel en demeine:
    c'est sa seroge, dame Heleine.

[Sidenote: Other Romances on Classical subjects.]

The poems of the Cycle of Antiquity have hitherto been less diligently
studied and reprinted than those of the other two. Few of them, with the
exception of _Alixandre_ and _Troie_, are to be read even in fragments,
save in manuscript. _Le Roman d'Enéas_, which is attributed to Benoist,
is much shorter than the _Roman de Troie_, and, with some omissions,
follows Virgil pretty closely. Like many other French poems, it was
adapted in German by a Minnesinger, Heinrich von Veldeke. _Le Roman de
Thèbes_, of which there is some chance of an edition, stands to Statius
in the same relation as _Enéas_ to Virgil. And _Le Roman de Jules
César_ paraphrases, though not directly, Lucan. To these must be added
_Athis et Prophilias_ (Porphyrias), or the Siege of Athens, a work which
has been assigned to many authors, and the origin of which is not clear,
though it enjoyed great popularity in the middle ages. The _Protesilaus_
of Hugues de Rotelande is the only other poem of this series worth the

Neither of these two classes of poems possesses the value of the
Chansons as documents for social history. The picture of manners in them
is much more artificial. But the Arthurian romances disclose partially
and at intervals a state of society decidedly more advanced than that of
the Chansons. The _bourgeois_, the country gentleman who is not of full
baronial rank, and other novel personages appear.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Note to Third Edition._--Since the second edition was published M.
Gaston Paris has sketched in _Romania_ and summarised in his _Manuel_,
but has not developed in book form, a view of the Arthurian romances
different from his father's and from that given in the text. In this
view the importance of 'Celtic' originals is much increased, and that of
Geoffrey diminished, Walter Map disappears almost entirely to make room
for divers unknown French trouvères, the order of composition is
altered, and on the whole a lower estimate is formed of the literary
value of the cycle. The 'Celtic' view has also been maintained in a book
of much learning and value, _Studies on the Legend of the Holy Grail_
(London, 1888), by Mr. Alfred Nutt. I have not attempted to incorporate
or to combat these views in the text for two reasons, partly because
they will most probably be superseded by others, and partly because the
evidence does not seem to me sufficient to establish any of them
certainly. But having given some years to comparative literary criticism
in different languages and periods, I think I may be entitled to give a
somewhat decided opinion against the 'Celtic' theory, and in favour of
that which assigns the special characteristics of the Arthurian cycle
and all but a very small part of its structure of incident to the
literary imagination of the trouvères, French and English, of the
twelfth century. And I may add that as a whole it seems to me quite the
greatest literary creation of the Middle Ages, except the _Divina
Commedia_, though of course it has the necessary inferiority of a
collection by a great number of different hands to a work of individual


[51] Nennius, a Breton monk of the ninth century, has left a brief Latin
Chronicle in which is the earliest authentic account of the Legend of
Arthur. Geoffrey of Monmouth, _circa_ 1140, produced a _Historia
Britonum_, avowedly based on a book brought from Britanny by Walter,
Archdeacon of Oxford. No trace of this book, unless it be Nennius, can
be found. _See note at end of chapter._

[52] Department of Seine-et-Marne, near Fontainebleau.

[53] Map as a person belongs rather to English than to French history.
He lived in the last three quarters of the twelfth century.

[54] These various Romances are not by any means equally open to study
in satisfactory critical editions. To take them chronologically, M.
Hucher has published Robert de Borron's _Little Saint Graal_ in prose,
his _Percevale_, and the _Great Saint Graal_, with full and valuable if
not incontestable notes, 3 vols.; Le Mans, 1875-1878. The verse form of
the _Little Saint Graal_ was published by M. F. Michel in 1841. An
edition of _Artus_ was promised by M. Paulin Paris, but interrupted or
prevented by his death. The great works of Map, _Lancelot_ and the
_Quest_, as well as the _Mort Artus_, have never been critically edited
in full; and the sixteenth-century editions being rare and exceedingly
costly, as well as uncritical, they are not easily accessible, except in
M. Paris' Abstract and Commentary, _Les Romans de la Table Ronde_, 5
vols., 1869-1877. _Tristan_ was published partially forty years ago by
M. F. Michel. _Merlin_ was edited in 1886 by M. G. Paris and M. Ulrich.
A complete edition of Chrestien de Troyes has been undertaken by Dr.
Wendelin Förster and has preceded to its second volume (_Yvain_). This
under its second title of _Le Chevalier au Lyon_ has also been edited by
Dr. Holland (third edition 1886). Besides this there is the great
Romance of _Percevale_ (continued by others, especially a certain
Manessier), of which M. Potvin has given an excellent edition, 6 vols.,
Mons, 1867-1872, including in it a previously unknown prose version of
the Romance of very early date; _Le Chevalier à la Charrette_, continued
by Godefroy de Lagny, and edited, with the original prose from _Lancelot
du Lac_, by Dr. Jonckbloet (The Hague, 1850); and _Erec et Énide_, by M.
Haupt (Berlin, 1860). This piecemeal condition of the texts, and the
practical inaccessibility of many of them, make independent judgment in
the matter very difficult. What is wanted first of all is a book on the
plan of M. Léon Gautier's _Epopées Françaises_, giving a complete
account of all the existing texts--for the entire editing of these
latter must necessarily take a very long time. The statements made above
represent the opinions which appear most probable to the writer, not
merely from the comparison of authorities on the subject, but from the
actual study of the texts as far as they are open to him. (_See note at
end of Chapter._)

[55] This expression occurs in the _Chanson des Saisnes_, i. 6. 7: 'Ne
sont que iij matières a nul home atandant, De France et de Bretaigne et
de Rome la grant.'

[56] Ed. Michelant. Stuttgart, 1846.

[57] _Li Cors_, otherwise _li tors_ 'the crooked.' Since this book was
first written M. Paul Meyer has treated the whole subject of the
paragraph in an admirable monograph, _Alexandre le Grand dans la
Littérature Française du Moyen Age_, 2 vols. Paris, 1886.

[58] Ed. Joly. Rouen, 1870.

[59] Moland and Héricault's _Nouvelles du XIV'ème Siècle_. Paris, 1857.
Joly, _Op. cit._ See also P. Stapfer, _Shakespeare et l'Antiquité_. 2
vols. Paris, 1880.



[Sidenote: Foreign Elements in Early French Literature.]

Singular as the statement may appear, no one of the branches of
literature hitherto discussed represents what may be called a specially
French spirit. Despite the astonishing popularity and extent of the
Chansons de Gestes, they are, as is admitted by the most patriotic
French students, Teutonic in origin probably, and certainly in genius.
The Arthurian legends have at least a tinge both of Celtic and Oriental
character; while the greater number of them were probably written by
Englishmen, and their distinguishing spirit is pretty clearly
Anglo-Norman rather than French. On the other hand, Provençal poetry
represents a temperament and a disposition which find their full
development rather in Spanish and Italian literature and character than
in the literature and character of France. All these divisions,
moreover, have this of artificial about them, that they are obviously
class literature--the literature of courtly and knightly society, not
that of the nation at large. Provençal literature gives but scanty
social information; from the earlier Chansons at least it would be hard
to tell that there were any classes but those of nobles, priests, and
fighting men; and though, as has been said, a more complicated state of
society appears in the Arthurian legends, what may be called their
atmosphere is even more artificial.

[Sidenote: The Esprit Gaulois makes its appearance.]

It is far otherwise with the division of literature which we are now
about to handle. The Fabliaux[60], or short verse tales of old France,
take in the whole of its society from king to peasant with all the
intervening classes, and represent for the most part the view taken of
those classes by each other. Perhaps the _bourgeois_ standpoint is most
prominent in them, but it is by no means the only one. Their tone too is
of the kind which has ever since been specially associated with the
French genius. What is called by French authors the _esprit gaulois_--a
spirit of mischievous and free-spoken jocularity--does not make its
appearance at once, or in all kinds of work. In most of the early
departments of French literature there is a remarkable deficiency of the
comic element, or rather that element is very much kept under. The
comedy of the Chansons consists almost entirely in the roughest
horse-play; while the knightly notion of _gabz_ or jests is exemplified
in the _Voyage de Charlemagne à Constantinople_, where it seems to be
limited to extravagant, and not always decent, boasts and gasconnades.
More comic, but still farcical in its comedy, is the curious running
fire of exaggerated expressions of poltroonery which the Red Lion keeps
up in _Antioche_, while the names and virtues of the Christian leaders
are being catalogued to Corbaran. In the Arthurian Romances also the
comic element is scantily represented, and still takes the same form of
exaggeration and horse-play. At the same time it is proper to say that
both these classes of compositions are distinguished, at least in their
earlier examples, by a very strict and remarkable decency of language.

In the Fabliaux the state of things is quite different. The attitude is
always a mocking one, not often going the length of serious satire or
moral indignation, but contenting itself with the peculiar ludicrous
presentation of life and humanity of which the French have ever since
been the masters. In the Fabliaux begins that long course of scoffing at
the weaknesses of the feminine sex which has never been interrupted
since. In the Fabliaux is to be found for the first time satirical
delineation of the frailties of churchmen instead of adoring celebration
of the mysteries of the Church. All classes come in by turns for
ridicule--knights, burghers, peasants. Unfortunately this freedom in
choice of subject is accompanied by a still greater freedom in the
choice of language. The coarseness of expression in many of the Fabliaux
equals, if it does not exceed, that to be found in any other branch of
Western literature.

[Sidenote: Definition of Fabliaux.]

The interest of the Fabliaux as a literary study is increased by the
precision with which they can be defined, and the well-marked period of
their composition. According to the excellent definition of its latest
editor, the Fabliau[61] is 'le récit, le plus souvent comique, d'une
aventure réelle ou possible, qui se passe dans les données moyennes de
la vie humaine,' the recital, for the most part comic, of a real or
possible event occurring in the ordinary conditions of human life. M. de
Montaiglon, to be rigidly accurate, should have added that it must be in
verse, and, with very rare, if any, exceptions, in octosyllabic
couplets. Of such Fabliaux, properly so called, we possess perhaps two
hundred. They are of the most various length, sometimes not extending to
more than a score or so of lines, sometimes containing several hundreds.
They are, like most contemporary literature, chiefly anonymous, or
attributed to persons of whom nothing is known, though some famous
names, especially that of the Trouvère Ruteboeuf, appear among their
authors. Their period of composition seems to have extended from the
latter half of the twelfth century to the latter half of the fourteenth,
no manuscript that we have of them being earlier than the beginning of
the thirteenth century, and none later than the beginning of the
fifteenth. If, however, their popularity in their original form ceased
at the latter period, their course was by no means run. They had passed
early from France into Italy (as indeed all the oldest French literature
did), and the stock-in-trade of all the Italian _Novellieri_ from
Boccaccio downwards was supplied by them. In England they found an
illustrious copyist in Chaucer, whose Canterbury Tales are perfect
Fabliaux, informed by greater art and more poetical spirit than were
possessed by their original authors. In France itself the Fabliaux
simply became farces or prose tales, as the wandering reciter of verse
gave way to the actor and the bookseller. They appear again (sometimes
after a roundabout journey through Italian versions) in the pages of the
French tale-tellers of the Renaissance, and finally, as far as collected
appearance is concerned, receive their last but not their least
brilliant transformation in the _Contes_ of La Fontaine. In these the
cycle is curiously concluded by a return to the form of the original.

[Sidenote: Subjects and character of Fabliaux.]

Until MM. de Montaiglon and Raynaud undertook their edition, which has
been slowly completed, the study of the Fabliaux was complicated by the
somewhat chaotic conditions of the earlier collections. Barbazan and his
followers printed as Fabliaux almost everything that they found in verse
which was tolerably short. Thus, not merely the mediaeval poems called
_dits_ and _débats_, descriptions of objects either in monologue or
dialogue, which come sometimes very close to the Fabliau proper, but
moral discourses, short romances, legends like the _Lai d'Aristote_, and
such-like things, were included. This interferes with a comprehension of
the remarkably characteristic and clearly marked peculiarities of the
Fabliau indicated in the definition given above. As according to this
the Fabliau is a short comic verse tale of ordinary life, it will be
evident that the attempts which have been made to classify Fabliaux
according to their subjects were not very happy. It is of course
possible to take such headings as Priests, Women, Villeins, Knights,
etc., and arrange the existing Fabliaux under them. But it is not
obvious what is gained thereby. A better notion of the _genre_ may
perhaps be obtained from a short view of the subjects of some of the
principal of those Fabliaux whose subjects are capable of description.
_Les deux Bordeors Ribaux_ is a dispute between two Jongleurs who boast
their skill. It is remarkable for a very curious list of Chansons de
Gestes which the clumsy reciter quotes all wrong, and for a great
number of the sly hits at chivalry and the chivalrous romances which are
characteristic of all this literature. Thus one Jongleur, going through
the list of his knightly patrons, tells of Monseignor Augier Poupée--

    'Qui à un seul coup de s'espee
    Coupe bien à un chat l'oreille;'

and of Monseignor Rogier Ertaut, whose soundness in wind and limb is not
due to enchanted armour or skill in fight, but is accounted for thus--

    'Quar onques ne ot cop feru' (for that never has he struck a blow).

_Le Vair Palefroi_ contains the story of a lover who carries off his
beloved on a palfrey grey from an aged wooer. _La Housse Partie_, a
great favourite, which appears in more than one form, tells the tale of
an unnatural son who turns his father out of doors, but is brought to a
better mind by his own child, who innocently gives him warning that he
in turn will copy his example. _Sire Hain et Dame Anieuse_ is one of the
innumerable stories of rough correction of scolding wives. _Brunain la
Vache au Prestre_ recounts a trick played on a covetous priest. In _Le
Dit des Perdrix_, a greedy wife eats a brace of partridges which her
husband has destined for his own dinner, and escapes his wrath by one of
the endless stratagems which these tales delight in assigning to
womankind. _Le sot Chevalier_, though extremely indecorous, deserves
notice for the Chaucerian breadth of its farce, at which it is
impossible to help laughing. _The two Englishmen and the Lamb_ is
perhaps the earliest example of English-French, and turns upon the
mistake which results in an ass's foal being bought instead of the
required animal. _Le Mantel Mautaillié_ is the famous Arthurian story
known in English as 'The Boy and the Mantle.' _Le Vilain Mire_ is the
original of Molière's _Médecin malgré lui_. _Le Vilain qui conquist
Paradis par Plaist_ is characteristic of the curious irreverence which
accompanied mediaeval devotion. A villein comes to heaven's gate, is
refused admission, and successively silences St. Peter, St. Thomas, and
St. Paul, by very pointed references to their earthly weaknesses. As a
last specimen may be mentioned the curiously simple word-play of
_Estula_. This is the name of a little dog which, being pronounced,
certain thieves take for 'Es tu là?'

[Sidenote: Sources of Fabliaux.]

Such are a very few, selected as well as may be for their typical
character, of these stories. It is not unimportant to consider briefly
the question of their origin. Many of them belong no doubt to that
strange common fund of fiction which all nations of the earth
indiscriminately possess. A considerable number seem to be of purely
original and indigenous growth: but an actual literary source is not
wanting in many cases. The classics supplied some part of them, the
Scriptures and the lives of the saints another part; while not a little
was due to the importation of Eastern collections of stories resulting
from the Crusades. The chief of these collections were the fables of
Bidpai or Pilpai, in the form known as the romance of 'Calila and
Dimna,' and the story of Sendabar (in its Greek form Syntipas). This was
immensely popular in France under the verse form of _Dolopathos_, and
the prose form of _Les sept Sages de Rome_. The remarkable collection of
stories called the _Gesta Romanorum_ is apparently of later date than
most of the Fabliaux; but the tales of which it was composed no doubt
floated for some time in the mouths of Jongleurs before the unknown and
probably English author put them together in Latin.

[Sidenote: The Roman du Renart.]

Closely connected with the Fabliaux is one of the most singular works of
mediaeval imagination, the _Roman du Renart_[62]. This is no place to
examine the origin or antiquity of the custom of making animals the
mouthpieces of moral and satirical utterance on human affairs. It is
sufficient that the practice is an ancient one, and that the middle ages
were early acquainted with Aesop and his followers, as well as with
Oriental examples of the same sort. The original author, whoever he was,
of the epic (for it is no less) of 'Reynard the Fox,' had therefore
examples of a certain sort before his eyes. But these examples contented
themselves for the most part with work of small dimension, and had not
attempted connected or continuous story. A fierce battle has been fought
as to the nationality of Reynard. The facts are these. The oldest form
of the story now extant is in Latin. It is succeeded at no very great
interval by German, Flemish, and French versions. Of these the German as
it stands is apparently the oldest, the Latin version being probably of
the second half of the twelfth century, and the German a little later.
But (and this is a capital point) the names of the more important beasts
are in all the versions French. From this and some minute local
indications, it seems likely that the original language of the epic is
French, but French of the Walloon or Picard dialect, and that it was
written somewhere in the district between the Seine and the Rhine. This,
however, is a matter of the very smallest literary importance. What is
of great literary importance is the fact that it is in France that the
story receives its principal development, and that it makes its home.
The Latin, Flemish, and German Reynards, though they all cover nearly
the same ground, do not together amount to more than five-and-twenty
thousand lines. The French in its successive developments amounts to
more than ninety thousand in the texts already published or abstracted;
and this does not include the variants in the Vienna manuscript of
_Renart le Contrefait_, or the different developments of the _Ancien
Renart_, recently published by M. Ernest Martin.

[Sidenote: The Ancien Renart.]

The order and history of the building up of this vast composition are as
follows. The oldest known 'branches,' as the separate portions of the
story are called, date from the beginning of the thirteenth century.
These are due to a named author, Pierre de Saint Cloud. But it is
impossible to say that they were actually the first written in French:
indeed it is extremely improbable that they were so. However this may
be, during the thirteenth century a very large number of poets wrote
pieces independent of each other in composition, but possessing the same
general design, and putting the same personages into play. In what has
hitherto been the standard edition of _Renart_, Méon published
thirty-two such poems, amounting in the aggregate to more than thirty
thousand verses. Chabaille added five more in his supplement, and M.
Ernest Martin has found yet another in an Italianised version. This last
editor thinks that eleven branches, which he has printed together,
constitute an 'ancient collection' within the _Ancien Renart_, and have
a certain connection and interdependence. However this may be, the
general plan is extremely loose, or rather non-existent. Everybody knows
the outline of the story of Reynard; how he is among the animals (Noble
the lion, who is king, Chanticleer the cock, Firapel the leopard,
Grimbart the badger, Isengrin the wolf, and the rest) the special
representative of cunning and valour tempered by discretion, while his
enemy Isengrin is in the same way the type of stupid headlong force, and
many of the others have moral character less strongly marked but
tolerably well sustained. How this general idea is illustrated the
titles of the branches show better than the most elaborate description.
'How Reynard ate the carrier's fish;' 'how Reynard made Isengrin fish
for eels;' 'how Reynard cut the tail of Tybert the cat;' 'how Reynard
made Isengrin go down the well;' 'of Isengrin and the mare;' 'how
Reynard and Tybert sang vespers and matins;' 'the pilgrimage of
Reynard,' and so forth. Written by different persons, and at different
times, these branches are of course by no means uniform in literary
value. But the uniformity of spirit in most, if not in all of them, is
extremely remarkable. What is most noticeable in this spirit is the
perpetual undertone of satirical comment on human life and its affairs
which distinguishes it. The moral is never obtrusively put forward, and
it is especially noteworthy that in this _Ancien Renart_, as contrasted
with the later development of the poem, there is no mere allegorising,
and no attempt to make the animals men in disguise. They are quite
natural and distinct foxes, wolves, cats, and so forth, acting after
their kind, with the exception of their possession of reason and

[Sidenote: Le Couronnement Renart.]

The next stage of the composition shows an alteration and a degradation.
_Renart le Couronné_, or _Le Couronnement Renart_[63], is a poem of some
3400 lines, which was once attributed to Marie de France, for no other
reason than that the manuscript which contains it subjoins her _Ysopet_
or fables. It is, however, certainly not hers, and is in all probability
a little later than her time. The main subject of it is the cunning of
the fox, who first reconciles the great preaching orders Franciscans and
Dominicans; then himself becomes a monk, and inculcates on them the art
of _Renardie_; then repairs to court as a confessor to the lion king
Noble who is ill, and contrives to be appointed his successor, after
which he holds tournaments, journeys to Palestine, and so forth. It is
characteristic of the decline of taste that in the list of his army a
whole bestiary (or list of the real and fictitious beasts of mediaeval
zoology) is thrust in; and the very introduction of the abstract term
_Renardie_, or foxiness, is an evil sign of the abstracting and
allegorising which was about to spoil poetry for a time, and to make
much of the literature of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries tedious
and heavy. The poem is of little value or interest. The only
chronological indication as to its composition is the eulogy of William
of Flanders, killed ('jadis,' says the author) in 1251.

[Sidenote: Renart le Nouvel.]

The next poem of the cycle is of much greater length, and of at least
proportionately greater value, though it has not the freshness and
_verve_ of the earlier branches. _Renart le Nouvel_ was written in 1288
by Jacquemart Giélée, a Fleming. This poem is in many ways interesting,
though not much can be said for its general conception, and though it
suffers terribly from the allegorising already alluded to. In its first
book (it consists of more than 8000 lines, divided into two books and
many branches) Renart, in consequence of one of his usual quarrels with
Isengrin, gets into trouble with the king, and is besieged in
Maupertuis. But the sense of verisimilitude is now so far lost, that
Maupertuis, instead of being a fox's earth, is an actual feudal castle;
and more than this, the animals which attack and defend it are armed in
panoply, ride horses, and fight like knights of the period. Besides this
the old familiar and homely personages are mixed up with a very strange
set of abstractions in the shape of the seven deadly sins. All this is
curiously blended with reminiscences and rehandlings of the older and
simpler adventures. Another remarkable feature about _Renart le Nouvel_
is that it is full of songs, chiefly love songs, which are given with
the music. Its descriptions, though prolix, and injured by allegorical
phrases, are sometimes vigorous.

[Sidenote: Renart le Contrefait.]

The cycle was finally completed in the second quarter of the fourteenth
century by the singular work or works called _Renart le Contrefait_.
This has, unfortunately, never been printed in full, nor in any but the
most meagre extracts and abstracts. Its length is enormous; though, in
the absence of opportunity for examining it, it is not easy to tell how
much is common to the three manuscripts which contain it. Two of these
are in Paris and one in Vienna, the latter being apparently identical
with one which Ménage saw and read in the seventeenth century. One of
the Parisian manuscripts contains about 32,000 verses, the other about
19,000; and the Vienna version seems to consist of from 20,000 to 25,000
lines of verse, and about half that number of prose. The author (who, in
so far as he was a single person, appears to have been a clerk of
Troyes, in Champagne) wrote it, as he says, to avoid idleness, and seems
to have regarded it as a vast commonplace book, in which to insert the
result not merely of his satirical reflection, but of his miscellaneous
reading. A noteworthy point about this poem is that in one place the
writer expressly disowns any concealment of his satirical intention. His
book, he says, has nothing to do with the kind of fox that kills
pullets, has a big brush, and wears a red skin, but with the fox that
has two hands and, what is more, two faces under one hood[64].
Notwithstanding this, however, there are many passages where the old
'common form' of the epic is observed, and where the old personages make
their appearance. Indeed their former adventures are sometimes served up
again with slight alterations. Besides this there is a certain number of
amusing stories and _fabliaux_, the most frequently quoted of which is
the tale of an ugly but wise knight who married a silly but beautiful
girl in hopes of having children uniting the advantages of both parents,
whereas the actual offspring of the union were as ugly as the father and
as silly as the mother. Combined with these things are numerous
allusions to the grievances of the peasants and burghers of the time
against the upper classes, with some striking legends illustrative
thereof, such as the story of a noble dame, who, hearing that a vassal's
wife had been buried in a large shroud of good stuff, had the body taken
up and seized the shroud to make horsecloths of. This original matter,
however, is drowned in a deluge not merely of moralising but of didactic
verse of all kinds. The history of Alexander is told in one version by
Reynard to the lion king in 7000 verses, and is preluded and followed by
an account of the history of the world on a scarcely smaller scale. This
proceeding, at least in the Vienna version, seems to be burdensome even
to Noble himself, who, at the reign of Augustus, suggests that Reynard
should exchange verse for prose, and 'compress.' The warning cannot be
said to be unnecessary: but works as long as _Renart le Contrefait_,
and, as far as it is possible to judge, not more interesting, have been
printed of late years; and it is very much to be wished that the
publication of it might be undertaken by some competent scholar.

[Sidenote: Fauvel.]

Renart is not the only bestial personage who was made at this time a
vehicle of satire. In the days of Philippe le Bel a certain François de
Rues composed a poem entitled _Fauvel_, from the name of the hero, a
kind of Centaur, who represents vice of all kinds. The direct object of
the poem was to attack the pope and the clergy.

Some extracts from the _Fabliau_ of the Partridges and from _Renart_ may
appropriately now be given:--

      Por ce que fabliaus dire sueil,
    en lieu de fable dire vueil
    une aventure qui est vraie,
    d'un vilain qui delés sa haie
    prist deus pertris par aventure.
    en l'atorner mist moult sa cure;
    sa fame les fist au feu metre.
    ele s'en sot bien entremetre:
    le feu a fait, la haste atorne.
    et li vilains tantost s'en torne,
    por le prestre s'en va corant.
    mais au revenir targa tant
    que cuites furent les pertris.
    la dame a le haste jus mis,
    s'en pinça une pelëure,
    quar molt ama la lechëure,
    quant diex li dona a avoir.
    ne bëoit pas a grant avoir,
    mais a tos ses bons acomplir.
    l'une pertris cort envaïr:
    andeus les eles en menjue.
    puis est alee en mi la rue
    savoir se ses sires venoit.
    quant ele venir ne le voit,
    tantost arriere s'en retorne,
    et le remanant tel atorne
    mal du morsel qui remainsist.
    adonc s'apenssa et si dist
    que l'autre encore mengera.
    moult tres bien set qu'ele dira,
    s'on li demande que devindrent:
    ele dira que li chat vindrent,
    quant ele les ot arrier traites;
    tost li orent des mains retraites,
    et chascuns la seue en porta.

      *  *  *  *  *  *

      Tant dura cele demoree
    que la dame fu saoulee,
    et li vilains ne targa mie:
    a l'ostel vint, en haut s'escrie
    'diva, sont cuites les pertris?'
    'sire,' dist ele. 'ainçois va pis,
    quar mengies les a li chas.'
    li vilains saut isnel le pas,
    seure li cort comme enragiés.
    ja li ëust les iex sachiés,
    quant el crie 'c'est gas, c'est gas.
    fuiiés,' fet ele, 'Sathanas!
    couvertes sont por tenir chaudes.'

(He accepts the excuse; bids her lay the table, and goes to sharpen his
knife. The priest arrives. She tells him that her husband is plotting
outrage against him, and as a proof shows him sharpening his knife. The
priest flies, and she tells her husband that he has run off with the
partridges. The husband pursues, but in vain, and the Fabliau thus

      A l'ostel li vilains retorne,
    et lors sa feme en araisone:
    'diva,' fait il, 'et quar me dis
    coment tu perdis les pertris?'
    cele li dist 'se diex m'aït,
    tantost que li prestres me vit,
    si me prïa, se tant l'amasse,
    que je les pertris li moustrasse,
    quar moult volentiers les verroit
    et je le menai la tout droit
    ou je les avoie couvertes.
    il ot tantost les mains ouvertes,
    si les prist et si s'en fuï.
    mes je gueres ne le sivi,
    ains le vous fis moult tost savoir.'
    cil respont 'bien pués dire voir
    or le laissons a itant estre.'
    ainsi fu engingniés le prestre
    et Gombaus qui les pertris prist.
    par example cis fabliaus dist:
    fame est faite por decevoir.
    mençonge fait devenir voir
    et voir fait devenir mençonge.
    cil n'i vout metre plus d'alonge
    qui fist cest fablel et ces dis.
    ci faut li fabliaus des pertris.

(_Reynard and Isengrin go a-fishing._)

      Ce fu un poi devant Noël
    que l'en metoit bacons en sel,
    li ciex fu clers et estelez,
    et li vivier fu si gelez,
    ou Ysengrin devoit peschier,
    qu'on pooit par desus treschier,
    fors tant c'un pertuis i avoit,
    qui des vilains faiz i estoit,
    ou il menoient lor atoivre
    chascune nuit juër et boivre:
    un seel i estoit laissiez.
    la vint Renarz toz eslaissiez
    et son compere apela.
    'sire,' fait il, 'traiiez vos ça:
    ci est la plenté des poissons
    et li engins ou nos peschons
    les anguiles et les barbiaus
    et autres poissons bons et biaus.'
    dist Ysengrins 'sire Renart,
    or le prenez de l'une part,
    sel me laciez bien a la qeue.'
    Renarz le prent et si li neue
    entor la qeue au miex qu'il puet.
    'frere,' fait il, 'or vos estuet
    moult sagement a maintenir
    por les poissons avant venir.'
    lors s'est en un buisson fichiez:
    si mist son groing entre ses piez
    tant que il voie que il face.
    et Ysengrins est seur la glace
    et li sëaus en la fontaine
    plains de glaçons a bone estraine.
    l'aive conmence a englacier
    et li sëaus a enlacier
    qui a la qeue fu noëz:
    de glaçons fu bien serondez.
    la qeue est en l'aive gelee
    et en la glace seelee.

This chapter would be incomplete without a reference to the _Ysopet_ of
Marie de France[65], which may be said to be a link of juncture between
the Fabliau and the _Roman du Renart_. _Ysopet_ (diminutive of Aesop)
became a common term in the middle ages for a collection of fables.
There is one known as the _Ysopet of Lyons_, which was published not
long ago[66]; but that of Marie is by far the most important. It
consists of 103 pieces, written in octosyllabic couplets, with
moralities, and a conclusion which informs us that the author wrote it
'for the love of Count William' (supposed to be Long-Sword), translating
it from an English version of a Latin translation of the Greek. Marie's
graceful style and her easy versification are very noticeable here,
while her morals are often well deduced and sharply put. The famous
'Wolf and Lamb' will serve as a specimen.

      Ce dist dou leu e dou aignel,
    qui beveient a un rossel:
    li lox a lo sorse beveit
    e li aigniaus aval esteit.
    irieement parla li lus
    ki mult esteit cuntralïus;
    par mautalent palla a lui:
    'tu m'as,' dist il, 'fet grant anui.'
    li aignez li ad respundu
    'sire, eh quei?' 'dunc ne veis tu?
    tu m'as ci ceste aigue tourblee:
    n'en puis beivre ma saolee.
    autresi m'en irai, ce crei,
    cum jeo ving, tut murant de sei.'
    li aignelez adunc respunt
    'sire, ja bevez vus amunt:
    de vus me vient kankes j'ai beu.'
    'qoi,' fist li lox, 'maldis me tu?'
    l'aigneus respunt 'n'en ai voleir.'
      lous li dit 'jeo sai de veir:
    ce meïsme me fist tes pere
    a ceste surce u od lui ere,
    or ad sis meis, si cum jeo crei.'
    'qu'en retraiez,' feit il, 'sor mei?
    n'ere pas nez, si cum jeo cuit.'
    'e cei pur ce,' li lus a dit:
    'ja me fais tu ore cuntraire
    e chose ke tu ne deiz faire.'
    dunc prist li lox l'engnel petit,
    as denz l'estrangle, si l'ocit.


      Ci funt li riche robëur,
    li vesconte e li jugëur,
    de ceus k'il unt en lur justise.
    fausse aqoison par cuveitise
    truevent assez pur eus cunfundre.
    suvent les funt as plaiz semundre,
    la char lur tolent e la pel,
    si cum li lox fist a l'aingnel.


[60] The first collection of Fabliaux was published by Barbazan in 1756.
This was re-edited by Méon in 1808, and reinforced by the same author
with a fresh collection in 1823. Meanwhile Le Grand d'Aussy had
(1774-1781) given extracts, abstracts, and translations into modern
French of many of them. Jubinal, Robert, and others enriched the
collection further, and in vol. xxiii. of the _Histoire Littéraire_ M.
V. Le Clerc published an excellent study of the subject. A complete
collection of Fabliaux has, however, only recently been attempted, by M.
M. A. de Montaiglon and G. Raynaud (6 vols., Paris, 1872-1888).

[61] _Fabliau_ is, of course, the Latin _fabula_. The genealogy of the
word is _fabula_, _fabella_, _fabel_, _fable_, _fablel_, _fableau_,
_fabliau_. All these last five forms exist.

[62] It should be noticed that this title, though consecrated by usage,
is a misnomer. It should be _Roman_ de _Renart_, for this latter is a
proper name. The class name is _goupil_ (vulpes). The standard edition
is that of Méon (4 vols., Paris, 1826) with the supplement of Chabaille,
1835. This includes not merely the _Ancien Renart_, but the
_Couronnement_ and _Renart le Nouvel_. _Renart le Contrefait_ has never
been printed. Rothe (Paris, 1845) and Wolf (Vienna, 1861) have given the
best accounts of it. Recently M. Ernest Martin has given a new critical
edition of the _Ancien Renart_ (3 vols., Strasburg and Paris,

[63] The necessary expression of the genitive by _de_ is later than
this. Mediaeval French retained the inflection of nouns, though in a
dilapidated condition. Properly speaking _Renars_ is the nominative,
_Renart_ the general inflected case.

[64] This is a free translation of the last line of the original, which
is as follows:--

    Pour renard qui gelines tue,
    Qui a la rousse peau vestue,
    Qui a grand queue et quatre piés,
    N'est pas ce livre communiés;
    Mais pour cellui qui a deux mains
    Dont il sont en ce siècle mains,
    Qui ont sous la chappe Faulx Semblant.

    Wolf, _Op. cit._ p. 5.

The final allusion is to a personage of the _Roman de la Rose_.

[65] Ed. Roquefort, vol. ii. See next chapter.

[66] By Dr. W. Förster. Heilbronn, 1882.



[Sidenote: Early and Later Lyrics.]

The lyric poetry of the middle ages in France divides itself naturally
into two periods, distinguished by very strongly marked characteristics.
The end of the thirteenth century is the dividing point in this as in
many other branches of literature. After that we get the extremely
interesting, if artificial, forms of the Rondeau and Ballade, with their
many varieties and congeners. With these we shall not busy ourselves in
the present chapter. But the twelfth and thirteenth centuries are
provided with a lyric growth, less perfect indeed in form than that
which occupied French singers from Machault to Marot, but more
spontaneous, fuller of individuality, variety, and vigour, and scarcely
less abundant in amount.

[Sidenote: Origins of Lyric.]

[Sidenote: Romances and Pastourelles.]

Before the twelfth century we find no traces of genuine lyrical work in
France. The ubiquitous _Cantilenae_ indeed again make their appearance
in the speculations of literary historians, but here as elsewhere they
have no demonstrable historical existence. Except a few sacred songs,
sometimes, as in the case of Saint Eulalie, in early Romance language,
sometimes in what the French call _langue farcie_, that is to say, a
mixture of French and Latin, nothing regularly lyrical is found up to
the end of the eleventh century. But soon afterwards lyric work becomes
exceedingly abundant. This is what forms the contents of Herr Karl
Bartsch's delightful volume of _Romanzen und Pastourellen_[67]. These
are the two earliest forms of French lyric poetry. They are recognised
by the Troubadour Raimon Vidal as the special property of the Northern
tongue, and no reasonable pretence has been put forward to show that
they are other than indigenous. The tendency of both is towards iambic
rhythm, but it is not exclusively manifested as in later verse. It is
one of the most interesting things in French literary history to see how
early the estrangement of the language from the anapaestic and dactylic
measures natural to Teutonic speech began to declare itself[68]. These
early poems bubble over with natural gaiety, their refrains, musical
though semi-articulate as they are, are sweet and manifold in cadence,
but the main body of the versification is either iambic or trochaic (it
was long before the latter measure became infrequent), and the freedom
of the ballad-metres of England and Germany is seldom present. The
Romance differs in form and still more in subject from the Pastourelle,
and both differ very remarkably from the form and manner of Provençal
poetry. It has been observed by nearly all students, that the love-poems
of the latter language are almost always at once personal and abstract
in subject. The Romance and the Pastourelle, on the contrary, are almost
always dramatic. They tell a story, and often (though not always in the
case of the Pastourelle) they tell it of some one other than the singer.
The most common form of the Romance is that of a poem varying from
twenty lines long to ten times that length and divided into stanzas.
These stanzas consist of a certain number (not usually less than three
or more than eight) of lines of equal length capped with a refrain in a
different metre. By far the best, though by no means the earliest, of
them are those of Audefroy le Bastard, who, according to the late M.
Paulin Paris, may be fixed at the beginning of the thirteenth century.
Audefroy's poems are very much alike in plan, telling for the most part
how the course of some impeded true love at last ran smooth. They rank
with the very best mediaeval poetry in colour, in lively painting of
manners and feelings, and in grace of versification. Unfortunately they
are one and all rather too long for quotation here. The anonymous
Romance of 'Bele Erembors' will represent the class well enough. The
rhyme still bears traces of assonance, which is thought to have
prevailed till Audefroy's time:--

    Quant vient en mai, que l'on dit as lons jors,
    Que Frans en France repairent de roi cort,
    Reynauz repaire devant el premier front
    Si s'en passa lez lo mes Arembor,
    Ainz n'en designa le chief drecier a mont.
            E Raynaut amis!

    Bele Erembors a la fenestre au jor
    Sor ses genolz tient paile de color;
    Voit Frans de France qui repairent de cort,
    E voit Raynaut devant el premier front:
    En haut parole, si a dit sa raison.
            E Raynaut amis!

    'Amis Raynaut, j'ai ja veu cel jor
    Se passisoiz selon mon pere tor,
    Dolanz fussiez se ne parlasse a vos.'
    'Ja mesfaistes, fille d'Empereor,
    Autrui amastes, si obliastes nos.'
            E Raynaut amis!

    'Sire Raynaut, je m'en escondirai:
    A cent puceles sor sainz vos jurerai,
    A trente dames que avuec moi menrai,
    C'onques nul hom fors vostre cors n'amai.
    Prennez l'emmende et je vos baiserai.'
            E Raynaut amis!

    Li cuens Raynauz en monta lo degre,
    Gros par espaules, greles par lo baudre;
    Blonde ot lo poil, menu, recercele:
    En nule terre n'ot so biau bacheler.
    Voit l'Erembors, so comence a plorer.
            E Raynaut amis!

    Li cuens Raynauz est montez en la tor,
    Si s'est assis en un lit point a flors,
    Dejoste lui se siet bele Erembors.

      *  *  *  *  *  *

    Lors recomencent lor premieres amors.
            E Raynaut amis!

The Pastourelle is still more uniform in subject. It invariably
represents the knight or the poet riding past and seeing a fair
shepherdess by his road-side. He alights and woos her with or without
success. In this class of poem the stanzas are usually longer, and
consist of shorter lines than is the case with the Romances, while the
refrains are more usually meaningless though generally very musical. It
is, however, well to add that the very great diversity of metrical
arrangement in this class makes it impossible to give a general
description of it. There are Pastourelles consisting merely of
four-lined stanzas with no refrain at all. The following is a good
specimen of the class:--

    De Saint Quentin a Cambrai
    Chevalchoie l'autre jour;
    Les un boisson esgardai,
    Touse i vi de bel atour.
    La colour
    Ot freche com rose en mai.
    De cuer gai
    Chantant la trovai
    Ceste chansonnete
        'En non deu, j'ai bel ami,
        Cointe et joli,
        Tant soie je brunete.'

    Vers la pastoure tornai
    Quant la vi en son destour;
    Hautement la saluai
    Et di 'deus vos doinst bon jour
    Et honour.
    Celle ke ci trove ai,
    Sens delai
    Ses amis serai.'
    Dont dist la doucete
        'En non deu, j'ai bel ami,
        Cointe et joli,
        Tant soie je brunete.'

    Deles li seoir alai
    Et li priai de s'amour,
    Celle dist 'Je n'amerai
    Vos ne autrui par nul tour,
    Sens pastour,
    Robin, ke fiencie l'ai.
    Joie en ai,
    Si en chanterai
    Ceste chansonnete:
        En non deu, j'ai bel ami,
        Cointe et joli,
        Tant soie je brunete.'

So various, notwithstanding the simplicity and apparent monotony of
their subjects, are these charming poems, that it is difficult to give,
by mere citation of any one or even of several, an idea of their beauty.
In no part of the literature of the middle ages are its lighter
characteristics more pleasantly shown. The childish freedom from care
and afterthought, the half unconscious delight in the beauty of flowers
and the song of birds, the innocent animal enjoyment of fine weather and
the open country, are nowhere so well represented. Chaucer may give
English readers some idea of all this, but even Chaucer is sophisticated
in comparison with the numerous, and for the most part nameless, singers
who preceded him by almost two centuries in France. As a purely formal
and literary characteristic, the use of the burden or refrain is perhaps
their most noteworthy peculiarity. Herr Bartsch has collected five
hundred of these refrains, all different. There is nothing like this to
be found in any other literature; and, as readers of Béranger know, the
fashion was preserved in France long after it had been given up

[Sidenote: Thirteenth Century.]

[Sidenote: Changes in Lyric.]

After the twelfth century the early lyrical literature of France
undergoes some changes. In the first place it ceases to be anonymous,
and individual singers--some of them, like Thibaut of Champagne, of very
great merit and individuality--make their appearance. In the second
place it becomes more varied but at the same time more artificial in
form, and exhibits evident marks of the communication between troubadour
and trouvère, and of the imitation by the latter of the stricter forms
of Provençal poetry. The Romance and the Pastourelle are still
cultivated, but by their side grow up French versions, often adapted
with considerable independence, of the forms of the South[69]. Such, for
instance, is the _chanson d'amour_, a form less artfully regulated
indeed than the corresponding canzon or sestine of the troubadours, but
still of some intricacy. It consists of five or six stanzas, each of
which has two interlaced rhymes, and concludes with an _Envoi_, which,
however, is often omitted. _Chansonnettes_ on a reduced scale are also
found. In these pieces the alternation of masculine and feminine rhymes,
which was ultimately to become the chief distinguishing feature of
French prosody, is observable, though it is by no means universal. To
the Provençal _tenson_ corresponds the _jeu parti_ or verse dialogue,
which is sometimes arranged in the form of a Chanson. The _salut
d'amour_ is a kind of epistle, sometimes of very great length and
usually in octosyllabic verse, the decasyllable being more commonly used
in the Chanson. Of this the _complainte_ is only a variety. Again, the
Provençal _sirvente_ is represented by the northern _serventois_, a poem
in Chanson form, but occupied instead of love with war, satire,
religion, and miscellaneous matters. It has even been doubted whether
the _serventois_ is not the forerunner of the _sirvente_ instead of the
reverse being the case. Other forms are _motets_, _rotruenges_,
_aubades_. Poems called _rondeaux_ and _ballades_ also make their
appearance, but they are loose in construction and undecided in form.
The thirteenth century is, moreover, the palmy time of the Pastourelle.
Most of those which we possess belong to this period, and exhibit to the
full the already indicated characteristics of that graceful form. But
the lyric forms of the thirteenth century are to some extent rather
imitated than indigenous, and it is no doubt to the fact of this
imitation that the common ascription of general poetical priority to the
Langue d'Oc, unfounded as it has been sufficiently shown to be, is due
in the main. The most courageous defenders of the North have wished to
maintain its claims wholly intact even in this instance, but
probability, if not evidence, is against them.

[Sidenote: Traces of Lyric in the Thirteenth Century.]

[Sidenote: Quesnes de Bethune.]

[Sidenote: Thibaut de Champagne.]

It has been said that the number of song writers from the end of the
twelfth century to the end of the thirteenth is extremely large. M.
Paulin Paris, whose elaborate chapter in the _Histoire Littéraire_ is
still the great authority on the subject, has enumerated nearly two
hundred, to whose work have to be added hundreds of anonymous pieces. It
would seem indeed that during a considerable period the practice of song
writing was almost as incumbent on the French gentleman of the
thirteenth century as that of sonnetteering on the English gentleman of
the sixteenth. There are, however, not a few names which deserve
separate notice. The first of these in point of time, and not the last
in point of literary importance, is that of Quesnes de Bethune, the
ancestor of Sully, and himself a famous warrior, statesman, and poet.
His epitaph by a poet not usually remarkable for eloquence[70] is a very
striking one. It gives us approximately the date of his death, 1224; and
the word _vieux_ is supposed to show that Quesnes must have been born at
least as early as the middle of the twelfth century. He took part in two
crusades, that of Philip Augustus and that which Villehardouin has
chronicled. His poems[71] are of all classes, historical, satirical, and
amorous, some of last being addressed to Marie, Countess of Champagne;
and his Chansons are, in the technical sense, some of the earliest we
possess. Contemporary with Quesnes apparently was the personage who is
known under the title of Châtelain de Coucy, and whose love for the Lady
of Fayel resulted in an interchange of very tender and beautiful verse;
the poem known as the lady's own is one of the very best of its kind.
Long afterwards lover and lady became the hero and heroine of a romance,
which has led some persons to throw doubt upon their historical
existence, and the Lady of Fayel has even been deprived of her poem by a
well-known kind of criticism. Of more importance is Thibaut de
Champagne, King of Navarre, who is indeed the most important single
figure of early French lyrical poetry. He was born in 1201, and died in
1253. His high position as a feudal prince in both north and south, the
minority of St. Louis, and the intimate relations which existed between
the King's mother, Blanche of Castille, and Thibaut, made him the mark
for a good deal of satirical invective. There is a tradition that he was
Blanche's lover, the only objection to which is that the Queen was
thirty years his senior. Thibaut's poems have been more than once
reprinted, the last edition being that of M. Tarbé[72]; this contains
eighty-one pieces, not a few of which, however, are probably the work of
others. The majority of them are Chansons d'Amour, of the kind just
defined. There are, however, a good many Jeux-Partis, and a certain
number of nondescript poems on miscellaneous subjects. There is more
reason for the common opinion which attributes to Thibaut the marriage
of the poetical qualities of northern and southern France, than the mere
fact of his having been both Count of Champagne and King of Navarre. His
poems have in reality something of the freshness and the individuality
of the Trouvères, mixed with a great deal of the formal grace and
elegance of the Troubadours. The following may serve as an example:--

      Contre le tens qui desbrise
    Yvers, et revient este,
    Et la mauvis se desguise,
    Qui de lonc tens n'a chante
    Ferai chanson. Car a gre
    Me vient que j'aie en pense
    Amor, qui en moi s'est mise.
    Bien m'a droit son dart gete.

      Douce dame, de franchise,
    N'ai je point en vos trove:
    S'ele ne s'i est puis mise
    Que je ne vos esgarde,
    Trop avez vers moi fierte.
    Mais ce fait vostre biaute,
    Ou il n'i a pas de devise,
    Tant en i a grand plante.

      En moi n'a point d'astenance
    Que je puisse aillors penser,
    Pors que la, ou conoissance
    Ne merci ne puis trover.
    Bien fui fait por li amer;
    Car ne m'en puis saoler.
    Et quant plus aurai cheance,
    Plus la me convendra douter.

      D'une riens sui en doutance,
    Que je ne puis plus celer,
    Qu'en li n'ait un po d'enfance.
    Ce me fait deconforter,
    Que s'a moi a bon penser
    Ne l'ose ele desmontrer.
    Si feist qu'a sa semblance
    Le poisse deviner.

      Des que je li fis priere
    Et la pris a esgarder,
    Me fist amors la lumiere
    Des iels par le cuer passer.
    Cil conduit me fait grever:
    Dont je ne me soi garder:
    Ne ne puet torner arriere
    Mon cuer; miex voudrait crever.

      Dame, a vos m'estuet clamer,
    Et que merci vos requiere.
    Diex m'i laist pitie trover!

[Sidenote: Minor Singers.]

[Sidenote: Adam de la Halle.]

Besides Thibaut there are not a few other song writers of the thirteenth
century, who rise out of the crowd named by M. Paulin Paris. Some of
these, as might be expected, are famous for their achievements in other
departments of literature. Such are Adam de la Halle, Jean Bodel, Guyot
de Provins. There are, however, two, Gace Brulé and Colin Muset, who
survive solely but worthily as song writers. Gace Brulé was a knight of
Champagne, Colin Muset a professed minstrel. The former chiefly composed
sentimental work; the latter, with the proverbial or professional gaiety
of his class, drew nearer to the satirical tone of the Fabliau writers.
His best-known and most usually quoted work describes the different
welcome which he receives from his family on his return from
professional tours, according to the success or ill-success with which
he has met. Two other poets, Adam de la Halle and Ruteboeuf, are far
more prominent in literary history. Adam de la Halle[73] bore the
surname 'Le Bossu d'Arras,' from his native town, though the term
hunchback seems to have had no literal application to him. His exact
date is not known, but it must probably have been from the fourth to the
ninth decade of the thirteenth century. His dramatic works, which are of
signal importance, will be noticed elsewhere. But besides these he has
left some seventy or eighty lyrical pieces of one kind or another.
Adam's life was not uneventful; he was at first a monk, but left his
convent and married. Then he proved as faithless to his temporal as he
had been to his spiritual vows. He lampooned his wife, his family, his
townsmen, and, shaking the dust of Arras from his feet, retired first to
Douai and then to the court of Robert of Artois, whom he accompanied to
Italy. He died in that country about 1288. The style of Adam de la Halle
varies from the coarsest satire to the most graceful tenderness. Of the
latter the following song is a good specimen:--

      Comment porroie
      Trouver voie
      D'aler a chelui
      Cui amiete je sui?
      Chainturelle, va-i
          En lieu de mi;
      Car tu fus sieue aussi,
      Si m'en conquerra miex.

           Mais comment serai sans ti?
      Chainturelle, mar vous vi;
      Au deschaindre m'ochies;
    De mes grietes a vous me confortoie,
          Quant je vous sentoie,
                  Ai mi!
       A le saveur de mon ami.
       Ne pour quant d'autres en ai,
       A cleus d'argent et de soie,
          Pour men user.
       Mais lasse! comment porroie
          Sans cheli durer
          Qui me tient en joie?

       Canchonnete, chelui proie
                Qui le m'envoya,
       Puis que jou ne puis aler la.
                Qu'il en viengne a moi,
                Chi droit,
                  A jour failli,
    Pour faire tous ses boins,
        Et il m'orra,
    Quant il ert joins,
    Canter a haute vois:
    _Par chi va la mignotise,_
      _Par chi ou je vois_.

[Sidenote: Ruteboeuf]

Ruteboeuf (whose name appears to be a nickname only) has been more
fortunate than most of the poets of early France in leaving a
considerable and varied work behind him, and in having it well and
collectively edited[74]. Little or nothing, however, is known about him,
except from allusions in his own verse. He was probably born about 1230;
he was certainly married in 1260; there is no allusion in his poems to
any event later than 1285. By birth he may have been either a Burgundian
or a Parisian. His work which, as has been said, is not inconsiderable
in volume, falls into three well-marked divisions in point of subject.
The first consists of personal and of comic poems; the second of poems
sometimes satirical, sometimes panegyrical, on public personages and
events; the third, which is apparently with reason assigned to the
latest period of his life, of devotional poems. In the first division
_La Pauvreté Ruteboeuf_, _Le Mariage Ruteboeuf_, etc., are
complaints of his woeful condition; complaints, however, in which there
is nearly as much satire as appeal. Others, such as _Renart le
Bestourné_, _Le Dit des Cordeliers_, _Frère Denise_, _Le Dit de
l'Erberie_, are poems of the Fabliau kind. In all these there are many
lively strokes of satire, and not a little of the reckless gaiety,
chequered here and there with deeper feeling, which has always been a
characteristic of a certain number of French poets. Ruteboeuf's
sarcasm is especially directed towards the monastic orders. The second
class of poems, which is numerous, displays a more elevated strain of
thought. Many of these poems are _complaintes_ or elaborate elegies
(often composed on commission) for distinguished persons, such as
Geoffroy de Sargines and Guillaume de Saint Amour. Others, such as the
_Complainte d'Outremer_, the _Complainte de Constantinople_, the _Dit de
la Voie de Tunes_, the _Débat du Croisé et du Décroisé_, are comments
on the politics and history of the time, for the most part strongly in
favour of the crusading spirit, and reproaching the nobility of France
with their degeneracy. 'Mort sont Ogier et Charlemagne' is an
often-quoted exclamation of Ruteboeuf in this sense. The third class
includes _La Mort Ruteboeuf_, otherwise _La Repentance Ruteboeuf_,
_La Voie de Paradis_, various poems to the Virgin, the lives of St. Mary
of Egypt and St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and the miracle play of
_Théophile_. Ruteboeuf's favourite metres are either the continuous
octosyllabic couplet, or else a stanza composed of an octosyllabic
couplet and a line of four syllables, the termination of the latter
being caught up by the succeeding couplet. In this the _Mariage_ is
written, of which a specimen may be given:--

      En l'an de l'incarnacïon,
    VIII jors aprés la nascïon
    Jhesu qui soufri passïon,
    en l'an soissante,
    qu'arbres n'a foille, oisel ne chante,
    fis je toute la rien dolante
    que de cuer m'aime:
    nis li musarz musart me claime.
    or puis filer, qu'il me faut traime;
    mult ai a faire.
    deus ne fist cuer tant de pute aire,
    tant li aie fait de contraire
    ne de martire,
    s'il en mon martire se mire,
    qui ne doie de bon cuer dire
    'je te claim cuite.'
    envoier un home en Egypte,
    ceste dolor est plus petite
    que n'est la moie;
    je n'en puis mais se je m'esmoie.
    l'en dit que fous qui ne foloie
    pert sa saison:
    sui je marïez sanz raison?
    or n'ai ne borde ne maison.
    encor plus fort:
    por plus doner de reconfort
    a ceus qui me heent de mort,
    tel fame ai prise
    que nus fors moi n'aime ne prise,
    et s'estoit povre et entreprise,
    quant je la pris.
    a ci marïage de pris,
    c'or sui povres et entrepris
    ausi comme ele,
    et si n'est pas gente ne bele.
    cinquante anz a en s'escuële,
    s'est maigre et seche:
    n'ai pas paor qu'ele me treche.
    despuis que fu nez en la greche
    deus de Marie,
    ne fu mais tele espouserie.
    je sui toz plains d'envoiserie:
    bien pert a l'uevre.

Though he has less of the 'lyrical cry' than some others, Ruteboeuf is
perhaps the most vigorous poet of his time.

[Sidenote: Lais. Marie de France.]

There is one division of early poetry which may also be noticed under
this head, though it is sometimes dealt with as a kind of miniature
epic. This is the _lai_, a term which is used in old French poetry with
two different significations. The Trouvères of the thirteenth and
fourteenth centuries made of it a regular lyrical form. But the most
famous of its examples, those which now pass under the name of Marie de
France, are narrative poems in octosyllabic verse and varying in length
considerably. It is agreed that the term and the thing are of Breton
origin; and the opinion which seems most probable is that the word
originally had reference rather to the style of music with which the
harper accompanied his verse, than to the measure, arrangement, or
subject of the latter. As to Marie herself[75], nothing is known about
her with certainty. She lived in England in the reign of Henry III, and
often gives English equivalents for her French words. The _lais_ which
we possess, written by her and attributed to her, are fourteen in
number. They bear the titles of _Gugemer_, _Equitan_, _Le Fresne_, _Le
Bisclaveret_, _Lanval_, _Les Deux Amants_, _Ywenec_, _Le Laustic_,
_Milun_, _Le Chaitivel_, _Le Chèvrefeuille_, _Eliduc_, _Graalent_ and
_L'Espine_. Mr. O'Shaughnessy has paraphrased several of these in
English[76]; they are all narrative in character. Their distinguishing
features are fluent and melodious versification, pure and graceful
language--among the purest and most graceful, though decidedly Norman in
character, of the time--true poetical feeling, and a lively faculty of
invention and description. After Marie there was a tendency to
approximate the _lai_ to the Provençal _descort_, and at last, as we
have said, it acquired rules and a form quite alien from those of its
earlier examples. There is a general though not a universal inclination
to melancholy of subject in the early lays, a few of which are

       *       *       *       *       *

_Note to Third Edition._--M. Gaston Paris has expressed some surprise at
my remarks on metre (p. 63). This from so accomplished a scholar is a
curious instance of the difficulty which Frenchmen seem to feel in
appreciating quantity. To an English eye and ear which have been trained
to classical prosody the trochaic rhythm of, for instance, the
Pastourelle quoted on p. 65, is unmistakable, and there are anapaestic
metres to be found here and there in early poems of the same kind.
Indeed, all French poetry is easily scanned quantitatively, though the
usual authorities protest against such scansion. Voltaire, it is said,
took Turgot's hexameters for prose, and the significance of this is the
same whether the mistake, as is probable, was mischievous or whether it
was genuine.


[67] Leipsic, 1870.

[68] See note at end of chapter.

[69] This miscellaneous lyric for the most part awaits collection and
publication. M. G. Raynaud has given a valuable _Bibliographie des
Chansonniers Français des XIII'e et XIV'e siècles_. 2 vols., Paris,
1884. Also a collection of _motets_. Paris, 1881.

[70] Philippe Mouskès. This is it:

    La terre fut pis en cest an
    Quar li vieux Quesnes estoit mors.

[71] The best edition is in Schéler's _Trouvères Belges_. Brussels,

[72] Rheims, 1851.

[73] The most convenient place to look for Adam's history and work is
_Le Théâtre Français au Moyen Age_. Par Monmerqué et Michel. Paris,
1874. There are also separate editions of him by Coussemaker, and more
recently by A. Rambeau. Marburg, 1886.

[74] By A. Jubinal. 2nd edition. 3 vols. Paris, 1874.

[75] Ed. Roquefort. 2 vols. Paris, 1820. The first volume contains the
lays; the later the fables, which have been noticed in the last chapter.
Later edition, Warnke. Halle, 1885. Marie also wrote a poem on the
Purgatory of St. Patrick. Three other lays, _Tidorel_, _Gringamor_, and
_Tiolet_ have been attributed to her, and are printed in _Romania_, vol.

[76] _Lays of France_, London, 1872.



In consequence of the slowness with which prose was used for any regular
literary purpose in France, verse continued to do duty for it until a
comparatively late period in almost all departments of literature. By
the very earliest years of the twelfth century, and probably much
earlier (though we have no certain evidence of this latter fact),
documents of all kinds began to be written in verse of various forms.
Among the earliest serious verse that was written rank, as we might
expect, verse chronicles. It was not till 1200 at soonest that long
translations from the Latin in French prose were made, but such
translations, and original works as well, were written in French verse
long before.

[Sidenote: Verse Chronicles.]

The rhymed Chronicles were numerous, but, with rare exceptions, they
cannot be said to be of any very great literary importance. Whether they
were imitated directly from the Chansons de Gestes, or _vice versa_, is
a question which, as it happens, can be settled without difficulty. For
they are almost all in octosyllabic couplets, a metre certainly later
than the assonanced decasyllabics of the earliest Chansons. The latter
form and the somewhat later dodecasyllable or Alexandrine are rarely
used for Verse Chronicles, the most remarkable exception being the
spirited _Combat des Trente_[77], which is however very late, and the
_Chronique de du Guesclin_ of the same date. There are earlier examples
of history in Alexandrines (some are found in the twelfth century, such
as the account of Henry the Second's Scotch Wars by Jordan Fantome,
Chancellor of the diocese of Winchester), but they are not numerous or
important. It is not unworthy of notice that the majority of the early
Verse Chronicles are English or Anglo-Norman. The first of importance is
that of Geoffrey Gaymar, whose Chronicle of English history was written
about 1146. Gaymar was followed by a much better known writer, the
Jerseyman Wace[78], who not only, as has been mentioned, versified
Geoffrey of Monmouth into the _Brut_[79], but produced the important
_Roman de Rou_[80], giving the history of the Dukes of Normandy and of
the Conquest of England. The date of the _Brut_ is 1155, of the _Rou_
1160. This latter is the better of the two, though Wace was not a great
poet. It consists chiefly of octosyllabics, with a curious insertion of
Alexandrines in rhymed not assonanced _laisses_. Wace was followed by
Benoist de Sainte-More, who extended his Chronicle of the Dukes of
Normandy to more than forty thousand verses. The 'Life of St. Thomas'
(Becket), by Garnier de Pont St. Maxence, also deserves notice, as does
an anonymous poem on the English wars in Ireland. But the most
interesting of this group is probably the history[81] of William
Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, who died in 1219 and who during his life
played a great part in England. It abounds in passages of historical
interest and literary value. During the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries, the practice of writing history in verse gradually died out,
yet some of the most important examples date from this time. Such are
the Chronicles of Philippe Mouskès[82], a Fleming, in more than thirty
thousand verses, extending from the Siege of Troy to the year 1243.
Mouskès is of some importance in literary history, because of the great
extent to which he has drawn on the Chansons de Gestes for his
information. In 1304 Guillaume Guiart, a native of Orleans, wrote in
twelve thousand verses a Chronicle of the thirteenth century, including
a few years earlier and later. There are a large number of other Verse
Chronicles, but few of them are of much importance historically, and
fewer still of any literary interest.

History, however, was by no means the only serious subject which took
this incongruous form in the middle ages. The amount of miscellaneous
verse written during the period between the end of the eleventh and the
beginning of the fifteenth century is indeed enormous. Only a very small
portion of it has ever been printed, and the mere summary description of
the manuscripts which contain it is as yet far from complete. If it be
said generally that, during the greater part of these three hundred
years, the first impulse of any one who wished to write, no matter on
what subject, was to write in verse, and that the popular notion of the
want of literary tastes in the middle ages is utterly mistaken, some
idea may be formed of the vast extent of literature, poetical in form,
which was then produced. Much no doubt of this literature is not in the
least worthy of detailed notice; much, whether worthy or not, must from
mere considerations of space and proportion remain unnoticed here. What
is possible, is to indicate briefly the chief forms, authors, and
subjects, which fall under the heading of this chapter, and to give a
somewhat detailed account of the great serious poem of mediæval France,
the _Roman de la Rose_. Peculiarities of metre and so forth will be
indicated where it is necessary, but it may be said generally that the
great mass of this literature is in octosyllabic couplets.

[Sidenote: Miscellaneous Satirical Verse.]

It has already been observed in discussing the Fabliaux that the first
enquirers into old French literature were led to include a very
miscellaneous assortment of poems under that head; and it may now be
added that this miscellaneous assortment with much else constitutes the
_farrago_ of the present chapter. The two great poems of the _Roman du
Renart_ and the _Roman de la Rose_ stand as representatives of the more
or less serious poetry of the time, and everything else may be said to
be included between them. Beginning nearest to the _Roman du Renart_ and
its kindred Fabliaux, we find a vast number of half-satirical styles of
poetry, many, if not most of them, known (according to what has been
noted in the preface as characteristic of mediaeval literature) by
distinctive form-names. Of these _dits_ and _débats_ have already been
noticed, but it is not easy to give a notion of the number of the
existing examples, or of the extraordinary diversity of subjects to
which both, and especially the _dits_, extend. Perhaps some estimate may
be formed from the fact that the _dits_ of three Flemish poets alone,
Baudouin de Condé, Jean de Condé, and Watriquet de Couvin, fill four
stout octavo volumes[83]. The subjects of these and of the large number
of _dits_ composed by other writers and anonymous are almost
innumerable. The earliest are for the most part simple enumerations of
the names of streets, of street cries, of guilds, of coins, and
such-like things. By degrees they become more definitely didactic, and
at last allegorical moralising masters them as it does almost every
other kind of poetry in the fourteenth century. The _débat_, sometimes
called _dispute_, or _bataille_, is an easily understood variety of the
_dit_. Ruteboeuf's principal _débat_ has been named; another in a less
serious spirit is that between _Charlot et le Barbier_. There is a
_Bataille des Vins_, a _Bataille de Caréme et de Charnage_, a _Débat de
l'Hiver et l'Été_, etc., etc. Another name much used for half-satirical,
half-didactic verse was that of _Bible_, of which the most famous
(probably because it was the first known) is that of Guyot de
Provins,--a violent onslaught on the powers that were in Church and
State by a discontented monk. An extract from it will illustrate this
division of the subject as well as anything else:--

      Des fisicïens me merveil:
    de lor huevre et de lor conseil
    rai ge certes mont grant merveille,
    nule vie ne s'apareille
    a la lor, trop par est diverse
    et sor totes autres perverse.
    bien les nomme li communs nons;
    mais je ne cuit qu'i ne soit hons
    qui ne les doie mont douter.
    il ne voudroient ja trover
    nul home sanz aucun mehaing.
    maint oingnement font e maint baing
    ou il n'a ne senz ne raison,
    cil eschape d'orde prison
    qui de lor mains puet eschaper.
    qui bien set mentir et guiler
    et faire noble contenance,
    tout ont trové fors la crëance
    que les genz ont lor fait a bien.
    tiex mil se font fisicïen
    qui n'en sevent voir nes que gié.
    li plus maistre sont mont changié
    de grant ennui, n'il n'est mestiers
    dont il soit tant de mençongiers.
    il ocïent mont de la gent:
    ja n'ont ne ami ne parent
    que il volsissent trover sain;
    de ce resont il trop vilain.
    mont a d'ordure en ces lïens.
    qui en main a fisicïens,
    se met par els. il m'ont ëu
    entre lor mains: onques ne fu,
    ce cuit, nule plus orde vie.
    je n'aim mie lor compaignie,
    si m'aït dex, qant je sui sains:
    honiz est qui chiet en lor mains.
    par foi, qant je malades fui,
    moi covint soffrir lor ennui.

_Testaments_ of the satirical kind, chiefly noteworthy for the brilliant
use which Villon made of the tradition of composing them, _resveries_
and _fatrasies_ (nonsense poems with a more or less satirical drift),
parodies of the offices of the Church, of its sermons, of the miracle
plays, are the chief remaining divisions of the poetry which, under a
light and scoffing envelope, conceals a serious purpose.

[Sidenote: Didactic verse. Philippe de Thaun.]

Such things have at all times been composed in verse, and the reason is
sufficiently obvious. In the first place, the intention of the writers
is to a certain extent masked, and in the second, the reader's attention
is attracted. But the middle ages by no means confined the use of verse
to such cases. Downright instruction was, as often as not, the object of
the verse writer in those days. The earliest, and as such the most
curious of didactic poems, are those of Philippe de Thaun, an Englishman
of Norman extraction, who wrote in the first quarter of the twelfth
century. His two works are a _Comput_, or Chronological Treatise,
dedicated to an uncle of his, who was chaplain to Hugh Bigod, Earl of
Norfolk, and a _Bestiary_, or Zoological Catalogue, dedicated to Adela
of Louvain, the wife of Henry the First. Written before the vogue of the
versified Arthurian Romances had consecrated the octosyllable, these
poems are in couplets of six syllables. Their great age, and to a
certain extent their literary merit, deserve an extract:--

      Monosceros est beste,
    un corn ad en la teste,
    pur çeo ad si a nun.
    de buc ele ad façun.
    par pucele eat prise,
    or oëz en quel guise,
    quant hom le volt cacer
    et prendre et enginner,
    si vent horn al orest
    u sis repaires est;
    la met une pucele
    hors de sein sa mamele,
    e par odurement
    monosceros la sent;
    dune vent a la pucele,
    si baiset sa mamele,
    en sun devant se dort,
    issi vent a sa mort;
    li hom survent atant,
    ki l'ocit en dormant,
    u trestut vif le prent,
    si fait puis sun talent.
    grant chose signefie,
    ne larei nel vus die.
      Monosceros griu est,
    en franceis un-corn est:
    beste de tel baillie
    Jhesu Crist signefie;
    un deu est e serat
    e fud e parmaindrat;
    en la virgine se mist,
    e pur hom charn i prist,
    e pur virginited,
    pur mustrer casteed,
    a virgine se parut
    e virgine le conceut.
    virgine est e serat
    e tuz jurz parmaindrat.
    ores oëz brefment
    le signefïement.
      Ceste beste en verté
    nus signefie dé;
    la virgine signefie,
    sacez, sancte Marie;
    par sa mamele entent
    sancte eglise ensement;
    e puis par le baiser
    çeo deit signefïer,
    que hom quant il se dort
    en semblance est de mort:
    dés cum home dormi,
    ki en cruiz mort sufri,
    ert sa destructïun
    nostre redemptïun,
    e sun traveillement
    nostre reposement.
    si deceut dés dïable
    par semblant cuvenable;
    anme e cors sunt un,
    issi fud dés et hum,
    e içeo signefie
    beste de tel baillie.

_Bestiaries_ and _Computs_ (the French title of the Chronologies) were
for some time the favourites with didactic verse writers, but before
long the whole encyclopædia, as it was then understood, was turned into
verse. Astrology, hunting, geography, law, medicine, history, the art of
war, all had their treatises; and latterly _Trésors_, or complete
popular educators, as they would be called nowadays, were composed, the
best-known of which is that of Walter of Metz in 1245.

[Sidenote: Moral and Theological verse.]

All, or almost all, these works, written as they were in an age
sincerely pious, if somewhat grotesque in its piety, and theoretically
moral, if somewhat loose in its practice, contained not only abundant
moralising, but also more or less theology of the mystical kind. It
would therefore have been strange if ethics and theology themselves had
wanted special exponents in verse. Before the middle of the twelfth
century Samson of Nanteuil (again an Englishman by residence) had
versified the Proverbs of Solomon, and in the latter half of the same
century vernacular lives of the saints begin to be numerous. Perhaps the
most popular of these was the legend of Barlaam and Josaphat, of which
the fullest poetical form has been left us by an English trouvère of the
thirteenth century named Chardry, by whom we have also a verse rendering
of the 'Seven Sleepers,' and some other poems[84]. Somewhat earlier,
Hermann of Valenciennes was a fertile author of this sort of work,
composing a great _Bible de Sapience_ or versification of the Old
Testament, and a large number of lives of saints. Of books of Eastern
origin, one of the most important was the _Castoiement d'un Père à son
Fils_, which comes from the _Panchatantra_, though not directly. The
translated work had great vogue, and set the example of other
_Castoiements_ or warnings. The monk Helinand at the end of the twelfth
century composed a poem on 'Death,' and a vast number of similar poems
might be mentioned. The commonest perhaps of all is a dialogue _Des
trois Morts et des trois Vifs_, which exists in an astonishing number of
variants. Gradually the tone of all this work becomes more and more
allegorical. _Dreams, Mirrors, Castles_, such as the 'Castle of Seven
Flowers,' a poem on the virtues, make their appearance.

[Sidenote: Allegorical verse.]

[Sidenote: The Roman de la Rose.]

The question of the origin of this habit of allegorising and
personification is one which has been often incidentally discussed by
literary historians, but which has never been exhaustively treated. It
is certain that, at a very early period in the middle ages, it makes its
appearance, though it is not in full flourishing until the thirteenth
century. It seems to have been a reflection in light literature of the
same attitude of mind which led to the development of the scholastic
philosophy, and, as in the case of that philosophy, Byzantine and
Eastern influences may have been at work. Certain it is that in some of
the later Greek romances[85], something very like the imagery of the
_Roman de la Rose_ is discoverable. Perhaps, however, we need not look
further than to the natural result of leisure, mental activity, and
literary skill, working upon a very small stock of positive knowledge,
and restrained by circumstances within a very narrow range of
employment. However this may be, the allegorising habit manifests itself
recognisably enough in French literature towards the close of the
twelfth century. In the _Méraugis de Portlesguez_ of Raoul de Houdenc,
the passion for arguing out abstract questions of lovelore is
exemplified, and in the _Roman des Eles_ of the same author the knightly
virtues are definitely personified, or at least allegorised. At the same
time some at all events of the Troubadours, especially Peire Wilhem,
carried the practice yet further. _Merci_, _Pudeur_, _Loyauté_, are
introduced by that poet as persons whom he met as he rode on his
travels. In Thibaut de Champagne a still further advance was made. The
representative poem of this allegorical literature, and moreover one of
the most remarkable compositions furnished by the mediaeval period in
France, is the _Roman de la Rose_[86]. It is doubtful whether any other
poem of such a length has ever attained a popularity so wide and so
enduring. The _Roman de la Rose_ extends to more than twenty thousand
lines, and is written in a very peculiar style; yet it maintained its
vogue, not merely in France but throughout Europe, for nearly three
hundred years from the date of its commencement, and for more than two
hundred from that of its conclusion. The history of the composition of
the poem is singular. It was begun by William of Lorris, of whom little
or nothing is known, but whose work must, so far as it is easy to make
out, have been done before 1240, and is sometimes fixed at 1237. This
portion extends to 4670 lines, and ends quite abruptly. About forty
years later, Jean de Meung, or Clopinel, afterwards one of Philippe le
Bel's paid men of letters, continued it without preface, taking up
William of Lorris' cue, and extended it to 22,817 verses, preserving the
metre and some of the personages, but entirely altering the spirit of
the treatment. The importance of the poem requires that such brief
analysis as space will allow shall be given here. Its general import is
sufficiently indicated by the heading,--

    Ci est le Rommant de la Rose
    Où l'art d'amors est tote enclose;

though the rage for allegory induced its readers to moralise even its
allegorical character, and to indulge in various far-fetched
explanations of it. In the twentieth year of his age, the author says,
he fell asleep and dreamed a dream. He had left the city on a fair May
morning, and walked abroad till he came to a garden fenced in with a
high wall. On the wall were portrayed figures, Hatred, _Félonnie_,
_Villonie_, Covetousness, Avarice, Envy, Sadness, Old Age, _Papelardie_
(Hypocrisy), Poverty--all of which are described at length. He strives
to enter in, and at last finds a barred wicket at which he is admitted
by Dame Oiseuse (Leisure), who tells him that Déduit (Delight) and his
company are within. He finds the company dancing and singing, Dame
Liesse (Enjoyment) being the chief songstress, while Courtesy greets him
and invites him to take part in the festival. The god of love himself is
then described, with many of his suite--Beauty, Riches, etc. A further
description of the garden leads to the fountain of Narcissus, whose
story is told at length. By this the author, who is thenceforth called
the lover, sees and covets a rosebud. But thorns and thistles bar his
way to it, and the god of love pierces him with his arrows. He does
homage to the god, who accepts his service, and addresses a long
discourse to him on his future duties and conduct. The prospect somewhat
alarms him, when a new personage, Bel Acueil (Gracious Reception), comes
up and tenders his services to the lover, the god having disappeared.
Almost immediately, however, Dangier[87] makes his appearance, and
drives both the lover and Bel Acueil out of the garden. As the former
is bewailing his fate, Reason appears and remonstrates with him. He
persists in his desire, and parleys with Dangier, both directly and by
ambassadors, so that in the end he is brought back by Bel Acueil into
the garden and allowed to see but not to touch the rose. Venus comes to
his aid, and he is further allowed to kiss it. At this, however, Shame,
Jealousy, and other evil agents reproach Dangier. Bel Acueil is immured
in a tower, and the lover is once more driven forth.

Here the portion due to William of Lorris ends. Its main characteristics
have been indicated by this sketch, except that the extreme beauty and
grace of the lavish descriptions which enclose and adorn the somewhat
commonplace allegory perforce escape analysis. It is in these
descriptions, and in a certain tenderness and elegance of general
thought and expression, that the charm of the poem lies, and this is
very considerable. The deficiency of action, however, and the continual
allegorising threaten to make it monotonous had it been much longer
continued in the same strain.

It is unlikely that it was this consideration which determined Jean de
Meung to adopt a different style. In his time literature was already
agitated by violent social, political, and religious debates, and the
treasures of classical learning were becoming more and more commonly
known. But prose had not yet become a common literary vehicle, save for
history, oratory, and romance, nor had the duty of treating one thing at
a time yet impressed itself strongly upon authors. Jean de Meung was
satirically disposed, was accomplished in all the learning of his day,
and had strong political opinions. He determined accordingly to make the
poem of Lorris, which was in all probability already popular, the
vehicle of his thoughts.

In doing this he takes up the story as his predecessor had left it, at
the point where the lover, deprived of the support of Bel Acueil, and
with the suspicions of Dangier thoroughly aroused against him, lies
despairing without the walls of the delightful garden. Reason is once
more introduced, and protests as before, but in a different tone and
much more lengthily. She preaches the disadvantages of love in a speech
nearly four hundred lines long, followed by another double the length,
and then by a dialogue in which the lover takes his share. The
difference of manner is felt at once. The allegory is kept up after a
fashion, but instead of the graceful fantasies of William of Lorris, the
staple matter is either sharp and satirical views of actual life, or
else examples drawn indifferently from sacred and profane history. One
speech of Reason's, a thousand lines in length, consists of a collection
of instances of this kind showing the mobility of fortune. At length she
leaves the lover as she found him, 'melancolieux et dolant,' but
unconvinced. Amis (the friend), who has appeared for a moment
previously, now reappears, and comforts him, also at great length,
dwelling chiefly on the ways of women, concerning which much scandal is
talked. The scene with Reason had occupied nearly two thousand lines;
that with Amis extends to double that length, so that Jean de Meung had
already excelled his predecessor in this respect. Profiting by the
counsel he has received, the lover addresses himself to Riches, who
guards the way, but fruitlessly. The god of love, however, takes pity on
him (slightly ridiculing him for having listened to Reason), and summons
all his folk to attack the tower and free Bel Acueil. Among these Faux
Semblant presents himself, and, after some parley, is received. This new
personification of hypocrisy gives occasion to some of the author's most
satirical touches as he describes his principles and practice. After
this, Faux Semblant and his companion, Contrainte Astenance (forced or
feigned abstinence), set to work in favour of the lover, and soon win
their way into the tower. There they find an old woman who acts as Bel
Acueil's keeper. She takes a message from them to Bel Acueil, and then
engages in a singular conversation with her prisoner, wherein the
somewhat loose morality of the discourses of Amis is still further
enforced by historical examples, and by paraphrases of not a few
passages from Ovid. She afterward admits the lover, who thus, at nearly
the sixteen-thousandth line from the beginning, recovers through the
help of False Seeming the 'gracious reception' which is to lead him to
the rose. The castle, however, is not taken, and Dangier, with the rest
of his allegorical company, makes a stout resistance to 'Les Barons de
L'Ost'--the lords of Love's army. The god sends to invoke the aid of his
mother, and this introduces a new personage. Nature herself, and her
confidant, Genius, are brought on the scene, and nearly five thousand
verses serve to convey all manner of thoughts and scraps of learning,
mostly devoted to the support, as before, of questionably moral
doctrines. In these five thousand lines almost all the current ideas of
the middle ages on philosophy and natural science are more or less
explicitly contained. Finally, Venus arrives and, with her burning
brand, drives out Dangier and his crew, though even at this crisis of
the action the writer cannot refrain from telling the story of Pygmalion
and the Image at length. The way being clear, the lover proceeds
unmolested to gather the longed-for rose.

[Sidenote: Popularity of the Roman de la Rose.]

It is impossible to exaggerate, and not easy to describe, the popularity
which this poem enjoyed. Its attacks on womanhood and on morality
generally provoked indeed not a few replies, of which the most important
came long afterwards from Christine de Pisan and from Gerson. But the
general taste was entirely in favour of it. Allegorical already, it was
allegorised in fresh senses, even a religious meaning being given to it.
The numerous manuscripts which remain of it attest its popularity before
the days of printing. It was frequently printed by the earliest
typographers of France, and even in the sixteenth century it received a
fresh lease of life at the hands of Marot, who re-edited it. Abroad it
was praised by Petrarch and translated by Chaucer[88]; and it is on the
whole not too much to say that for fully two centuries it was the
favourite book in the vernacular literature of Europe. Nor was it
unworthy of this popularity. As has been pointed out, the grace of the
part due to William of Lorris is remarkable, and the satirical vigour of
the part due to Jean de Meung perhaps more remarkable still. The
allegorising and the length which repel readers of to-day did not
disgust generations whose favourite literary style was the allegorical,
and who had abundance of leisure; but the real secret of its vogue, as
of all such vogues, is that it faithfully held up the mirror to the
later middle ages. In no single book can that period of history be so
conveniently studied. Its inherited religion and its nascent
free-thought; its thirst for knowledge and its lack of criticism; its
sharp social divisions and its indistinct aspirations after liberty and
equality; its traditional morality and asceticism, and its half-pagan,
half-childish relish for the pleasures of sense; its romance and its
coarseness, all its weakness and all its strength, here appear.

[Sidenote: Imitations.]

The imitations of the _Roman de la Rose_ were in proportion to its
popularity. Much of this imitation took place in other kinds of poetry,
which will be noticed hereafter. Two poems, however, which are almost
contemporary with its earliest form, and which have only recently been
published, deserve mention. One, which is an obvious imitation of
Guillaume de Lorris, but an imitation of considerable merit, is the
_Roman de la Poire_[89], where the lover is besieged by Love in a tower.
The other, of a different class, and free from trace of direct
imitation, is the short poem called _De Venus la Déesse d'Amors_[90],
written in some three hundred four-lined stanzas, each with one rhyme
only. Some passages of this latter are very beautiful.

Three extracts, two from the first part of the _Roman de la Rose_, and
one from the second, will show its style:--

    En iceli tens déliteus,
    Que tote riens d'amer s'esfroie,
    Sonjai une nuit que j'estoie,
    Ce m'iert avis en mon dormant,
    Qu'il estoit matin durement;
    De mon lit tantost me levai,
    Chauçai-moi et mes mains lavai.
    Lors trais une aguille d'argent
    D'un aguiller mignot et gent,
    Si pris l'aguille à enfiler.
    Hors de vile oi talent d'aler,
    Por oïr des oisiaus les sons
    Qui chantoient par ces boissons
    En icele saison novele;
    Cousant mes manches à videle,
    M'en alai tot seus esbatant,
    Et les oiselés escoutant,
    Qui de chanter moult s'engoissoient
    Par ces vergiers qui florissoient,
    Jolis, gais et pleins de léesce.
    Vers une rivière m'adresce
    Que j'oï près d'ilecques bruire.
    Car ne me soi aillors déduire
    Plus bel que sus cele rivière.
    D'un tertre qui près d'iluec ière
    Descendoit l'iaue grant et roide,
    Clere, bruiant et aussi froide
    Comme puiz, ou comme fontaine,
    Et estoit poi mendre de Saine,
    Mès qu'ele iere plus espandue.
    Onques mès n'avoie véue
    Tele iaue qui si bien coroit:
    Moult m'abelissoit et séoit
    A regarder le leu plaisant.
    De l'iaue clere et reluisant
    Mon vis rafreschi et lavé.
    Si vi tot covert et pavé
    Le fons de l'iaue de gravele;
    La praérie grant et bele
    Très au pié de l'iaue batoit.
    Clere et serie et bele estoit
    La matinée et atemprée:
    Lors m'en alai parmi la prée
    Contreval l'iaue esbanoiant,
    Tot le rivage costoiant.

      *  *  *  *  *  *

    Une ymage ot emprès escrite,
    Qui sembloit bien estre ypocrite,
    _Papelardie_ ert apelée.
    C'est cele qui en recelée,
    Quant nus ne s'en puet prendre garde,
    De nul mal faire ne se tarde.
    El fait dehors le marmiteus,
    Si a le vis simple et piteus,
    Et semble sainte créature;
    Mais sous ciel n'a male aventure
    Qu'ele ne pense en son corage.
    Moult la ressembloit bien l'ymage
    Qui faite fu à sa semblance,
    Qu'el fu de simple contenance;
    Et si fu chaucie et vestue
    Tout ainsinc cum fame rendue.
    En sa main un sautier tenoit,
    Et sachiés que moult se penoit
    De faire à Dieu prières faintes,
    Et d'appeler et sains et saintes.
    El ne fu gaie ne jolive,
    Ains fu par semblant ententive
    Du tout à bonnes ovres faire;
    Et si avoit vestu la haire.
    Et sachiés que n'iere pas grasse.
    De jeuner sembloit estre lasse,
    S'avoit la color pale et morte.
    A li et as siens ert la porte
    Dévéée de Paradis;
    Car icel gent si font lor vis
    Amegrir, ce dit l'Évangile,
    Por avoir loz parmi la vile,
    Et por un poi de gloire vaine,
    Qui lor toldra Dieu et son raine.

      *  *  *  *  *  *

    _Comment le traistre Faulx-Semblant
    Si va les cueurs des gens emblant,
    Pour ses vestemens noirs et gris,
    Et pour son viz pasle amaisgris._
    'Trop sai bien mes habiz changier,
    Prendre l'un, et l'autre estrangier.
    Or sui chevaliers, or sui moines,
    Or sui prélas, or sui chanoines,
    Or sui clers, autre ore sui prestres,
    Or sui desciples, or sui mestres,
    Or chastelains, or forestiers:
    Briément, ge sui de tous mestiers.
    Or resui princes, or sui pages,
    Or sai parler trestous langages;
    Autre ore sui viex et chenus,
    Or resui jones devenus.
    Or sui Robers, or sui Robins,
    Or cordeliers, or jacobins.
    Si pren por sivre ma compaigne
    Qui me solace et acompaigne,
    (C'est dame Astenance-Contrainte),
    Autre desguiséure mainte,
    Si cum il li vient à plesir
    Por acomplir le sien désir.
    Autre ore vest robe de fame;
    Or sui damoisele, or sui dame,
    Autre ore sui religieuse,
    Or sui rendue, or sui prieuse,
    Or sui nonain, or sui abesse,
    Or sui novice, or sui professe;
    Et vois par toutes régions
    Cerchant toutes religions. Mès de religion, sans faille,
    G'en pren le grain et laiz la paille;
    Por gens avulger i abit,
    Ge n'en quier, sans plus, que l'abit.
    Que vous diroie? en itel guise
    Cum il me plaist ge me desguise;
    Moult sunt en moi mué li vers,
    Moult sunt li faiz aux diz divers.
    Si fais chéoir dedans mes piéges
    Le monde par mes priviléges;
    Ge puis confesser et assoldre,
    (Ce ne me puet nus prélas toldre,)
    Toutes gens où que ge les truisse;
    Ne sai prélat nul qui ce puisse,
    Fors l'apostole solement
    Qui fist cest establissement
    Tout en la faveur de nostre ordre.'


[77] This is an account of the battle of thirty Englishmen and thirty
Bretons in the Edwardian wars.

[78] There is, it appears, no authority for the Christian name of Robert
which used to be given to Wace.

[79] Wace's _Brut_ is not the only one. The title seems to have become a
common name.

[80] The old edition of the _Roman de Rou_, by Pluquet, has been
entirely superseded by that of Dr. Hugo Andresen. 2 vols. Heilbronn,

[81] Discovered recently in the Middlehill collection, and known chiefly
by an article in _Romania_ (Jan. 1882), giving an abstract and

[82] Ed. Reiffenberg. Brussels, 1835-1845.

[83] Ed. Schéler. Brussels, 1866-1868.

[84] Well edited by Koch. Heilbronn, 1879.

[85] See especially _Hysminias and Hysmine_.

[86] Ed. F. Michel. 2 vols. Paris, 1864.

[87] _Dangier_ is not exactly 'danger.' To be 'en dangier de quelqu'un'
is to be 'in somebody's power.' _Dangier_ is supposed to stand for the
guardian of the beloved, father, brother, husband, etc. This at least
has been the usual interpretation, and seems to me to be much the more
probable. M. Gaston Paris, however, and others, see in _Dangier_ the
natural coyness and resistance of the beloved object, not any external

[88] Chaucer's authorship of the existing translation has been denied.
It is, however, certain that he did translate the poem.

[89] Ed. Stehlich. Halle, 1881.

[90] Ed. Förster. Berne, 1880.



[Sidenote: Distinguishing features of Romans d'Aventures.]

The remarkable fecundity of early French literature in narrative poetry
on the great scale was not limited to the Chanson de Geste, the
Arthurian Romance, and the classical story wrought into the likeness of
one or the other of these. Towards the end of the twelfth or the
beginning of the thirteenth century a new class of narrative poems
arose, derived from each and all of these kinds, but marked by important
differences. The new form immediately reacted on the forms which had
given it birth, and produced new Chansons de Gestes, new Arthurian
Romances, and new classical stories fashioned after its own image. This
is what is called the Roman d'Aventures, of which the first and main
feature is open and almost avowed fictitiousness, and the second the
more or less complete abandonment of any attempt at cyclic arrangement
or subordination to a central theme.

[Sidenote: Looser application of the term.]

[Sidenote: Classes of Romans d'Aventures.]

Until quite recently it was not unusual to apply the term Roman
d'Aventures with less strictness, and to make it include the Romances of
the Round Table. There can, however, be no doubt that it is far better
to adopt Jean Bodel's three classes as distinguishing into separate
groups the epic poetry of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and to
restrict the title Romans d'Aventures to the later narrative
developments of the thirteenth and fourteenth. For the second
distinguishing mark which we have just indicated is striking and of more
or less universal application. In these later poems the ambition of the
writer to class his work under and with some precedent work is almost
entirely absent. He allows himself complete freedom, though he may
sometimes, in order to give his characters greater interest, connect
them nominally with some famous personage or event of the earlier
cycles. This tendency to shake off the shackles of cyclicism is early
apparent. There are episodes even in the Chansons de Gestes which have
little or no reference to Charlemagne or his peers: the Arthurian
Romances in prose and verse contain long digressions, holding but very
loosely to the Table Round, such as the adventures of Tristram and
Percivale, and still more the singular episode of Grimaud in the _Saint
Graal_. As for the third class, the Trouvères almost from the beginning
assumed the greatest licence in their handling of the classical legends.
These accordingly were less affected than any others by the change. It
is possible to divide the Romans d'Aventures themselves under the three
headings. It is further possible to indicate a large class of Chansons
de Gestes over which the influence of the Roman d'Aventures has passed.
But the Chanson having a special formal peculiarity--the assonanced or
rhymed tirade--survived the new influence better than the other two, and
keeps its name, and to some extent its character, while the Romances of
Arthur and antiquity are simply lost in the general body of tales of
adventure. These tales are for the most part written in octosyllabic
couplets on the model of Chrestien, but a very few, such as _Brun de la
Montaigne_, imitate the exterior characteristics of the Chanson.

It is further to be noticed that while the earlier poems are mostly
anonymous, the Romans d'Aventures are generally, though not always,
signed, and bear characteristics of particular authorship. In some
cases, notably in those of Adenès le Roi and Raoul de Houdenc, we have a
body of work signed or otherwise identified, which enables us to
attribute a definite literary character and position to its authors.
This, as we have noted, is impossible in the case of the national epics,
and not too easy in that of the Arthurian Romances. Until quite recently
however the Roman d'Aventures has had less of the attention of editors
than its forerunners, and the works which compose the class are still to
some extent unpublished.

[Sidenote: Adenès le Roi.]

Adenès or Adans le Roi perhaps derived his surname from the function of
king of the minstrels, if he performed it, at the court of Henry III,
duke of Brabant. He was, most likely, born in the second quarter of the
thirteenth century, and the last probable allusion to him which we have
occurs in the year 1297. The events of his life are only known from his
own poems, and consist chiefly of travels in company with different
princesses and princes of Flanders and Brabant. His literary work is
however of great importance. It consists partly of refashionings of
three Chansons de Gestes, _Les enfances Ogier_, _Berte aus grans Piés_,
and _Bueves de Commarchis_[91]. In these three poems Adenès works up the
old epics into the form fashionable in his time, and as we possess the
older versions of the first and last, the comparison of the two forms
affords a literary study of the highest interest. His last, longest, and
most important work is the Roman d'Aventures of _Cléomadès_[92], a poem
extending to 20,000 verses, and not less valuable for its intrinsic
merit than as a type of its class. Its popularity in the middle ages was
immense. Froissart gives it the place occupied in the _Inferno_ by
_Lancelot_ in his description of his declaration of love to his
mistress, and allusions to it under its second title of _Le Cheval de
Fust_[93] are frequent. The most prominent feature in the story is the
introduction of a wooden horse, like that known to everybody in the
Arabian Nights, which, started and guided by means of pegs, transports
its rider whithersoever he will. Its great length allows of a very long
series of adventures, all of which are told in spirited and flowing
verse, though with considerable prolixity and a certain abuse of stock
descriptions. These two faults characterise all the Romans d'Aventures
and the Chansons which were remodelled in their style. The merits of
_Cléomadès_ are not so universally found, but its extreme length is not
common. Few other Romans d'Aventures exceed 10,000 lines. An extract
from this poem will well illustrate the manner of this important class
of composition:--

      Cleomadés vit un chastel
    encoste un plain, tres fort et bel,
    ou il ot mainte bele tour.
    bos et rivieres vit entour,
    vignes et praieries grans.
    mult fu li chastiaus bien sëans.
    la façon dou castel deïsse,
    mais je dout mult que ne meïsse
    trop longement au deviser:
    pour ce m'en voel briément passer.
      Du chastel vous dirai le non:
    miols sëant ne vit aine nus hom,
    lors l'apieloit on Chastel-noble.
    n'ot tel dusque en Constantinoble,
    ne de la dusque en Osterice
    n'ot plus bel, plus fort ne plus rice.
    carmans a cel point i estoit
    que Cleomadés vint la droit.
    forment li sambloit li chastiaus
    de toutes pars riches et biaus.
      Cleomadés lors s'avisa
    que viers le chastel se trera.
    bien pensoit qu'en tel liu manoient
    gent qui de grant afaire estoient.
    che fu si qu'apriés l'ajournee
    mult faisoit bele matinee,
    car mais estoit nouviaus entrés:
    c'est uns tans ki mult est amés
    et de toutes gens conjoïs;
    pour çou a non mais li jolis.
    une tres grant tour haute et forte
    avoit asés priés de la porte,
    ki estoit couverte de plon,
    plate deseure, car adon
    les faisoit on ensi couvrir
    pour engins et pour assallir.
      Cleomadés a avisee
    la tour ki estoit haute et lee;
    lors pense qu'il s'arestera
    sor cele tour tant qu'il savra,
    se il puet, la certainité
    quel païs c'est la verité.
    lors a son cheval adrechié
    viers la tour de marbre entaillié.
    les chevilletes si tourna
    que droit sour la tour aresta.
    si coiement s'est avalés
    que sour aighe coie vait nés.

[Sidenote: Raoul de Houdenc.]

Raoul de Houdenc is an earlier poet than Adenès, and represents the
Roman d'Aventures in its infancy, when it still found it necessary to
attach itself to the great cycle of the Round Table. His works, besides
some shorter poems[94], consist of the _Roman des Eles_ (Ailes), a
semi-allegorical composition, describing the wings and feathers of
chivalry, that is to say, the great chivalrous virtues, among which
Raoul, like a herald as he was, gives Largesse the first place; of
_Méraugis de Portlesguez_, an important composition, possessing some
marked peculiarities of style; and possibly also of the _Vengeance de
Raguidel_, in which the author works out one of the innumerable
unfinished episodes of the great epic of _Percevale_. Thus Raoul de
Houdenc occupies no mean place in French literature, inasmuch as he
indicates the starting-point of two great branches, the Roman
d'Aventures and the allegorical poem, and this at a very early date.
This date is not known exactly; but it was certainly before 1228, when
the Trouvère Huon de Méry alludes to him, and classes him with Chrestien
as a master of French verse. He has in truth some very noteworthy
peculiarities. The chief of these, which must soon strike any reader of
_Méraugis_, is his tendency to _enjambement_ or overlapping of couplets.
It is a curious feature in the history of French verse that the
isolation of the couplet has constantly recurred in its history, and
that as constantly reformers have striven to break up the monotony so
produced by this process of _enjambement_. Perhaps Raoul is the earliest
who thus, as an indignant critic put it at the first representation of
_Hernani_, 'broke up verses, and threw them out of window.' Besides this
metrical characteristic, the thing most noteworthy in his poems (as
might indeed have been expected from his composition of the _Roman des
Eles_) is a tendency to allegorising, and to scholastic disquisitions on
points of amatory casuistry. The whole plot of _Méraugis_ indeed turns
on the enquiry whether physical or metaphysical love is the sincerest,
and on the quarrel which a difference on this point brings on between
the hero and Gorvein Cadrus his friend and his rival in the love of the
fair Lidoine.

[Sidenote: Chief Romans d'Aventures.]

Many other Romans d'Aventures deserve mention, both for their intrinsic
merits and for the immense popularity they once enjoyed. Foremost among
these must be mentioned _Partenopex de Blois_[95] and _Flore et
Blanchefleur_[96]. The former (formerly ascribed to Denis Pyramus and
now denied to him, but said to date from the twelfth century) is a kind
of modernised _Cupid and Psyche_, except that Cupid's place is taken by
the fairy Melior, and Psyche's by the knight Parthenopeus or
Parthenopex. This poem has great elegance and freshness of style, and
though the author is inclined to moralise (as a near forerunner of the
_Roman de la Rose_ was bound to do), his moralisings are gracefully and
naively put. _Flore et Blanchefleur_ is perhaps even superior. Its theme
is the love of a young Christian prince for a Saracen girl-slave, who
has been brought up with him. She is sold into a fresh captivity to
remove her from him, but he follows her and rescues her unharmed from
the harem of the Emir of Babylon. The delicacy of the handling is very
remarkable in this poem, and it has some links of connection with
_Aucassin et Nicolette_. _Le Roman de Dolopathos_[97] has a literary
history of great interest which we need not touch upon here. Its
versification has more vigour than that of almost any other Roman
d'Aventures. _Blancandin et l'Orguilleuse d'Amour_[98] is more promising
at the beginning than in the sequel. A young knight, hearing of the
pride and coyness of a lady, accosts and kisses her as she rides past
with a great following of knights. Her coldness is of course changed to
love at first sight, and the audacious suitor afterwards delivers her
from her enemies; but the working out of the story is rather dully
managed. _Brun de la Montaigne_[99], as has been already mentioned, is
written in Chanson form, and deals with the famous Forest of Broceliande
in Britanny. _Guillaume de Palerne_[100] is a still more interesting
work. It introduces the favourite mediaeval idea of lycanthropy, the
hero being throughout helped and protected by a friendly were-wolf, who
is before the end of the poem freed from the enchantment to which he is
subjected. This Romance was early translated into English. Of the same
class is the _Roman de l'Escouffle_, where a hawk carries away the
heroine's ring, as in a well-known story of the Arabian Nights. _Amadas
et Idoine_[101] is one of the numerous histories of the success of a
squire of low degree, but is distinguished from most of them by the
originality of its conception and the vigour of its style. The scenes
where the hero is recovered of his madness by his beloved, and where,
keeping guard over her tomb, he fights with ghostly enemies, after a
time of trial of his fidelity, and rescues her from death, are unusually
brilliant. _Le Bel Inconnu_[102], which (from a curious misunderstanding
of its older form _Li Biaus Desconnus_) occurs in English form as
_Lybius Diasconus_, tells the story of a son of Gawain and the fairy
with the white hands, and thus is one of the numerous secondary Romances
of the Round Table. So also is the long and interesting _Roman du
Chevalier as Deux Espées_[103]; this extends to more than 12,000 lines,
and, though the adventures recorded are of the ordinary Round Table
pattern, there is noticeable in it a better faculty of maintaining the
interest and a completer mastery over episodes than usual. A still
longer poem (also belonging to what may be called the outer Arthurian
cycle) is _Durmart le Gallois_[104], which contains almost 16,000
verses. The loves of the hero and Fenise, the Queen of Ireland, are
somewhat lengthily handled; but there are passages of merit, especially
one most striking episode in which the hero, riding through a forest by
night, comes to a tree covered from top to bottom with burning torches,
while a shining naked child is enthroned on the summit. These touches of
mystical religion are rarer in the later Romans d'Aventures than in the
Arthurian Romances proper, but with them one of the most remarkable
elements of romance disappears. Philippe de Rémy, Seigneur de Beaumanoir
(who has other claims to literary distinction) is held to be author of
two Romans d'Aventures[105], _La Manekine_ (the story of the King of
Hungary's daughter, who cut off her hand to save herself from her
father's incestuous passion) and _Blonde d'Oxford_, where a young French
squire carries off an English heiress. _Joufrois de Poitiers_[106],
which has not come down to us complete, is chiefly remarkable for the
liveliness of style with which adventures, in themselves tolerably
hackneyed, are handled. Other Romans d'Aventures, which are either as
yet in manuscript or of less importance, are _Ille et Galeron_ and
_Eracle_, both by Gautier d'Arras, _Cristal et Larie_, _La Dame à la
Licorne_, _Guy de Warwike_, _Gérard de Nevers_ or _La Violette_[107],
_Guillaume de Dole_, _Elédus et Séréna_, _Florimont_.

[Sidenote: General Character.]

Like most kinds of mediaeval poetry, these Romans d'Aventures have a
very considerable likeness the one to the other. It may indeed be said
that they possess a 'common form' of certain incidents and situations,
which reappear with slight changes and omissions in all or most of them.
Their besetting sins are diffuseness and the recurrence of stock
descriptions and images. On the other hand, they have their peculiar
merits. The harmony of their versification is often very considerable;
their language is supple, picturesque, and varied, and the moral
atmosphere which they breathe is one of agreeable refinement and
civilisation. In them perhaps is seen most clearly the fanciful and
graceful side of the state of things which we call chivalry. Its
mystical and transcendental sides are less vividly and touchingly
exhibited than in the older Arthurian Romances; and its higher passions
are also less dealt with. The Romans d'Aventures supply once more,
according to the Aristotelian definition, an Odyssey to the Arthurian
Iliad; they are complex and deal with manners. Nor ought it to be
omitted that, though they constantly handle questions of gallantry, and
though their uniform theme is love, the language employed on these
subjects is almost invariably delicate, and such as would not fail to
satisfy even modern standards of propriety. The courtesy which was held
to be so great a knightly virtue, if it was not sufficient to ensure a
high standard of morality in conduct, at any rate secured such a
standard in matter of expression. In this respect the Court literature
of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries stands in very remarkable
contrast to that which was tolerated, if not preferred, from the time of
Louis the Eleventh until the reign of his successor fourteenth of the

[Sidenote: Last Chansons. Baudouin de Sebourc.]

Reference has already been made to the influence which these poems had
on the Chansons de Gestes. Few of the later developments of these are
worth much attention, but what may be called the last original Chanson
deserves some notice. _Baudouin de Sebourc_[108] and its sequel the
_Bastard of Bouillon_[109] worthily close this great division of
literature, and, setting as they do a finish to the sub-cycle of the
_Chevalier au Cygne_, hardly lose except in simplicity by comparison
with its magnificent opening in the _Chanson d'Antioche_. They contain
together some 33,000 verses, and the scene changes freely. It is
sometimes in Syria, where the Crusaders fight against the infidel,
sometimes in France and Flanders, where Baudouin has adventures of all
kinds, comic and chivalrous, sometimes on the sea, where among other
things the favourite mediaeval legend of St. Brandan's Isle is brought
in. Not a little of its earlier part shows the sarcastic spirit common
at the date of its composition, the beginning of the fourteenth century.
The length of the two poems is enormous, as has been said; but, putting
two or three masterpieces aside, no poem of mediaeval times has a more
varied and livelier interest than _Baudouin de Sebourc_, and few breathe
the genuine Chanson spirit of pugnacious piety better than _Le Bastart
de Bouillon_.


[91] Ed. Schéler. Brussels, v. d.

[92] Ed. van Hasselt. Brussels, 1866.

[93] _The wooden horse._

[94] The _Songe d'Enfer_ and the _Voie de Paradis_, published by
Jubinal, as the _Roman des Eles_ has been by Schéler, _Méraugis_ by
Michelant, and the _Vengeance de Raguidel_ by Hippeau.

[95] Ed. Crapelet. Paris, 1834.

[96] Ed. Du Méril. Paris, 1856.

[97] Ed. Brunet et Montaiglon. Paris, 1856.

[98] Ed. Michelant. Paris, 1867.

[99] Ed. Meyer. Paris, 1875.

[100] Ed. Michelant. Paris, 1876.

[101] Ed. Hippeau. Paris, 1863.

[102] Ed. Hippeau. Paris, 1860.

[103] Ed. Förster. Halle, 1877.

[104] Ed. Stengel. Tübingen, 1873.

[105] Both edited in extract by Bordier. Paris, 1869. Complete edition
begun by Suchier. Paris, 1884.

[106] Ed. Hofmann and Muncker. Halle, 1880.

[107] Ed. Michel.

[108] Ed. Boca. 2 vols. Valenciennes, 1841.

[109] Ed. Schéler. Brussels, 1877.



[Sidenote: The Artificial Forms of Northern France.]

Not the least important division of early French literature, in point of
bulk and peculiarity, though not always the most important in point of
literary excellence, consists of the later lyrical and miscellaneous
poems of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. By the end of the
thirteenth century the chief original developments had lost their first
vigour, while, on the other hand, the influence of the regular forms of
Provençal poetry had had time to make itself fully felt. There arose in
consequence, in northern France, a number of artificial forms, the
origin and date of which is somewhat obscure, but which rapidly attained
great popularity, and which continued for fully two centuries almost to
monopolise the attention of poets who did not devote themselves to
narrative. These forms, the Ballade, the Rondeau, the Virelai, etc.,
have already been alluded to as making their appearance among the later
growths of early lyrical poetry. They must now be treated in the
abundant development which they received at the hands of a series of
poets from Lescurel to Charles d'Orléans.

[Sidenote: General Character. Varieties.]

The principle underlying all these forms is the same, that is to say,
the substitution for the half-articulate refrain of the early Romances,
of a refrain forming part of the sense, and repeated with strict
regularity at the end or in the middle of stanzas rigidly corresponding
in length and constitution. In at least two cases, the _lai_ and the
_pastourelle_, the names of earlier and less rigidly exact forms were
borrowed for the newer schemes; but the more famous and prevailing
models[110], the Ballade, with its modification the Chant Royal, and
the Rondel, with its modifications the Rondeau and the Triolet, are new.
It has been customary to see in the adoption of these forms a sign of
decadence; but this can hardly be sustained in face of the fact that, in
Charles d'Orléans and Villon respectively, the Rondel and the Ballade
were the occasion of poetry far surpassing in vigour and in grace all
preceding work of the kind, and also in presence of the service which
the sonnet--a form almost if not quite as artificial--has notoriously
done to poetry. It may be admitted, however, that the practitioners of
the Ballade and the Rondeau soon fell into puerile and inartistic
over-refinements. The forms of Ballade known as Équivoquée, Fratrisée,
Couronnée, etc., culminating in the preposterous Emperière, are
monuments of tasteless ingenuity which cannot be surpassed in their
kind, and they have accordingly perished. But both in France and in
England the Ballade itself and a few other forms have retained
popularity at intervals, and have at the present day broken out into
fresh and vigorous life.

[Sidenote: Jehannot de Lescurel.]

[Sidenote: Guillaume de Machault.]

[Sidenote: Eustache Deschamps]

The chief authors of these pieces during the period we are discussing
were Jehannot de Lescurel, Guillaume de Machault, Eustache Deschamps,
Jean Froissart, Christine de Pisan, Alain Chartier, and Charles
d'Orléans. Besides these there were many others, though the epoch of
the Hundred Years' War was not altogether fertile in lighter poetry or
poetry of any kind. Jehannot de Lescurel[111] is one of those poets of
whom absolutely nothing is known. His very name has only survived in the
general syllabus of contents of the manuscript which contains his works,
and which is in this part incomplete. The thirty-three poems--sixteen
Ballades, fifteen Rondeaus[112], and two nondescript pieces--which exist
are of singular grace, lightness, and elegance. They cannot be later and
are probably earlier than the middle of the fourteenth century, and thus
they are anterior to most of the work of the school. Guillaume de
Machault was a person sufficiently before the world, and his work is
very voluminous. As usual with all these poets, it contains many details
of its author's life, and enables us to a certain extent to construct
that life out of these indications. Machault was probably born about
1284, and may not have died till 1377. A native of Champagne and of
noble birth, he early entered, like most of the lesser nobility of the
period, the service of great feudal lords. He was chamberlain to Philip
the Fair, and at his death became the secretary of John of Luxembourg,
the well-known king of Bohemia. After the death of this prince at
Cressy, he returned to the service of the court of France and served
John and Charles V., finally, as it appears, becoming in some way
connected with Pierre de Lusignan, king of Cyprus. His works were very
numerous, amounting in all to some 80,000 lines, of which until recently
nothing but a few extracts was in print. In the last few years, however,
_La Prise d'Alexandrie_[113], a rhymed chronicle of the exploits of
Lusignan, and the _Voir Dit_[114], a curious love poem in the style of
the age, have been printed. Besides these his works include numerous
ballades, etc., and several long poems in the style of those of
Froissart, shortly to be described. On the other hand, the works of
Eustache Deschamps, which are even more voluminous than those of
Machault, his friend and master, are almost wholly composed of short
pieces, with one notable exception, the _Miroir de Mariage_, a poem of
13,000 lines[115]. Deschamps has left no less than 1175 ballades, and as
the ballade usually contains twenty-four lines at least, and frequently
thirty-four, this of itself gives a formidable total. Rondeaus,
virelais, etc., also proceeded in great numbers from his pen; and he
wrote an important 'Art of Poetry,' a treatise rendered at once
necessary and popular by the fashion of artificial rhyming. The life of
Deschamps was less varied than that of Machault, whose inferior he was
in point of birth, but he held some important offices in his native
province, Champagne. Both Deschamps and Machault exhibit strongly the
characteristics of the time. Their ballades are for the most part either
moral or occasional in subject, and rarely display signs of much
attention to elegance of phraseology or to weight and value of thought.
In the enormous volume of their works, amounting in all to nearly
200,000 lines, and as yet mostly unpublished, there is to be found much
that is of interest indirectly, but less of intrinsic poetical worth.
The artificial forms in which they for the most part write specially
invite elegance of expression, point, and definiteness of thought,
qualities in which both, but especially Deschamps, are too often
deficient. When, for instance, we find the poet in his anxiety to
discourage swearing, filling, in imitation of two bad poets of his time,
one, if not two ballades[116] with a list of the chief oaths in use, it
is difficult not to lament the lack of critical spirit displayed.

[Sidenote: Froissart.]

Froissart, though inferior to Lescurel, and though far less remarkable
as a poet than as a prose writer, can fairly hold his own with
Deschamps and Machault, while he has the advantage of being easily
accessible[117]. The later part of his life having been given up to
history, he is not quite so voluminous in verse as his two predecessors.
Yet, if the attribution to him of the _Cour d' Amour_ and the _Trésor
Amoureux_ be correct, he has left some 40,000 or 50,000 lines. The bulk
of his work consists of long poems in the allegorical courtship of the
time, interspersed with shorter lyrical pieces in the prevailing forms.
One of these poems, the _Buisson de Jonece_, is interesting because of
its autobiographical details; and some shorter pieces approaching more
nearly to the _Fabliau_ style, _Le Dit du Florin_, _Le Débat du Cheval
et du Lévrier_, etc., are sprightly and agreeable enough. For the most
part, however, Froissart's poems, like almost all the poems of the
period, suffer from the disproportion of their length to their matter.
If the romances of the time, which are certainly not destitute of
incident, be tedious from the superabundance of prolix description, much
more tedious are these recitals of hyperbolical passion tricked out with
all the already stale allegorical imagery of the _Roman de la Rose_ and
with inappropriate erudition of the fashion which Jean de Meung had
confirmed, if he did not set it.

[Sidenote: Christine de Pisan.]

Christine de Pisan, who was born in 1363, was a pupil of Deschamps, as
Deschamps had been a pupil of Machault. She was an industrious writer, a
learned person, and a good patriot, but not by any means a great
poetess. So at least it would appear, though here again judgment has to
be formed on fragments, a complete edition of Christine never having
been published, and even her separate poems being unprinted for the most
part, or printed only in extract. Besides a collection of Ballades,
Rondeaux, and so forth, she wrote several _Dits_ (the _Dit de la
Pastoure_, the _Dit de Poissy_, the _Dittié de Jeanne d'Arc_, and some
_Dits Moraux_), besides a _Mutation de Fortune_, a _Livre des Cent
Histoires de Troie_, etc., etc.

[Sidenote: Alain Chartier.]

Alain Chartier, who was born in or about 1390, and who died in 1458, is
best known by the famous story of Margaret of Scotland, queen of
France, herself an industrious poetess, stooping to kiss his poetical
lips as he lay asleep. He also awaits a modern editor. Like Froissart,
he devoted himself to allegorical and controversial love poems, and like
Christine to moral verse. In the former he attained to considerable
skill, and a ballade, which will presently be given, will show his
command of dignified expression. On the whole he may be said to be the
most complete example of the scholarliness which tended more and more to
characterise French poetry at this time, and which too often degenerated
into pedantry. Chartier is the first considerable writer of original
work who Latinises much; and his practice in this respect was eagerly
followed by the _rhétoriqueur_ school both in prose and verse. He
himself observed due measure in it; but in the hands of his successors
it degraded French to an almost Macaronic jargon.

In all the earlier work of this school not a little grace and elegance
is discoverable, and this quality manifests itself most strongly in the
poet who may be regarded as closing the strictly mediaeval series,
Charles d'Orléans[118]. The life of this poet has been frequently told.
As far as we are concerned it falls into three divisions. In the first,
when after his father's death he held the position of a great feudal
prince almost independent of royal control, it is not recorded that he
produced any literary work. His long captivity in England was more
fruitful, and during it he wrote both in French and in English. But the
last five-and-twenty years of his life, when he lived quietly and kept
court at Blois (bringing about him the literary men of the time from
Bouciqualt to Villon, and engaging with them in poetical tournaments),
were the most productive. His undoubted work is not large, but the
pieces which compose it are among the best of their kind. He is fond, in
the allegorical language of the time, of alluding to his having 'put his
house in the government of Nonchaloir,' and chosen that personage for
his master and protector. There is thus little fervency of passion
about him, but rather a graceful and somewhat indolent dallying with the
subjects he treats. Few early French poets are better known than Charles
d'Orléans, and few deserve their popularity better. His Rondeaux on the
approach of spring, on the coming of summer and such-like subjects,
deserve the very highest praise for delicate fancy and formal skill.

Of poets of less importance, or whose names have not been preserved, the
amount of this formal poetry which remains to us is considerable. The
best-known collection of such work is the _Livre des Cent
Ballades_[119], believed, on tolerably satisfactory evidence, to have
been composed by the famous knight-errant Bouciqualt and his companions
on their way to the fatal battle of Nicopolis. Before, however, the
fifteenth century was far advanced, poetry of this formal kind fell into
the hands of professional authors in the strictest sense, _Grands
Rhétoriqueurs_ as they were called, who, as a later critic said of
almost the last of them, 'lost all the grace and elegance of the
composition' in their elaborate rules and the pedantic language which
they employed. The complete decadence of poetry in which this resulted
will be treated partly in the summary following the present book, partly
in the first chapter of the book which succeeds it.

Meanwhile this frail but graceful poetry may be illustrated by an
irregular _Ballade_ from Lescurel, a _Chanson Balladée_ from Machault, a
_Virelai_ from Deschamps, a _Ballade_ from Chartier, and a _Rondel_ from
Charles d'Orléans.


    Amour, voules-vous acorder
    Que je muire pour bien amer?
    Vo vouloir m'esteut agreer;
    Mourir ne puis plus doucement;
    Amours, faciez voustre talent.

    Trop de mauvais portent endurer
    Pour celi que j'aim sanz fausser
    N'est pas par li, au voir parler,
    Ains est par mauparliere gent.
    Amours, faciez voustre talent.

    Dous amis, plus ne puis durer
    Quant ne puis ne n'os regarder
    Vostre doue vis, riant et cler.
    Mort, alegez mon grief torment;
          Ou, briefment,
    Amours, faciez voustre talent.


      Onques si bonne journee
        Ne fu adjournee,
    Com quant je me departi
    De ma dame desiree
        A qui j'ay donnee
    M'amour, & le cuer de mi.

    Car la manne descendi
        Et douceur aussi,
    Par quoi m'ame saoulee
    Fu dou fruit de Dous ottri,
        Que Pite cueilli
    En sa face coulouree.
    La fu bien l'onnour gardee
        De la renommee
    De son cointe corps joli;
    Qu'onques villeine pensee
        Ne fu engendree
    Ne nee entre moy & li.
    Onques si bonne journee, &c.

      Souffisance m'enrichi
        Et Plaisance si,
    Qu'onques creature nee
    N'ot le cuer si assevi,
        N'a mains de sousci,
    Ne joie si affinee.
    Car la deesse honnouree
        Qui fait l'assemblee
    D'amours, d'amie & d'ami,
    Coppa le chief de s'espee
        Qui est bien tempree,
    A Dangier, mon anemi.
    Onques si bonne journee, &c.

      Ma dame l'enseveli
        Et Amours, par fi
    Que sa mort fust tost plouree.
    N'onques Honneur ne souffri
      (Dont je l'en merci)
    Que messe li fu chantee.
    Sa charongne trainee
        Fu sans demouree
    En un lieu dont on dit: fi!
    S'en fu ma joie doublee,
        Quant Honneur l'entree
    Ot dou tresor de merci.
    Onques si bonne journee, &c.


        Sui-je, sui-je, sui-je belle?
    Il me semble, a mon avis,
    Que j'ay beau front et doulz viz,
    Et la bouche vermeilette;
    Dictes moy se je sui belle.

        J'ay vers yeulx, petit sourcis,
    Le chief blont, le nez traitis,
    Ront menton, blanche gorgette;
    Sui-je, sui-je, sui-je belle, etc.

        J'ay dur sain et hault assis,
    Lons bras, gresles doys aussis,
    Et, par le faulx, sui greslette;
    Dictes moy se je sui belle.

        J'ay piez rondes et petiz,
    Bien chaussans, et biaux habis,
    Je sui gaye et foliette;
    Dictes moy se je sui belle.

        J'ay mantiaux fourrez de gris,
    J'ay chapiaux, j'ay biaux proffis,
    Et d'argent mainte espinglette;
    Sui-je, sui-je, sui-je belle?

        J'ay draps de soye, et tabis,
    J'ay draps d'or, et blanc et bis,
    J'ay mainte bonne chosette;
    Dictes moy se je sui belle.

        Que quinze ans n'ay, je vous dis;
    Moult est mes tresors jolys,
    S'en garderay la clavette;
    Sui-je, sui-je, sui-je belle?

        Bien devra estre hardis
    Cilz, qui sera mes amis,
    Qui ora tel damoiselle;
    Dictes moy se je sui belle?

        Et par dieu, je li plevis,
    Que tres loyal, se je vis,
    Li seray, si ne chancelle;
    Sui-je, sui-je, sui-je belle?

        Se courtois est et gentilz,
    Vaillains, apers, bien apris,
    Il gaignera sa querelle;
    Dictes moy se je sui belle.

        C'est uns mondains paradiz
    Que d'avoir dame toudiz,
    Ainsi fresche, ainsi nouvelle;
    Sui-je, sui-je, sui-je belle?

        Entre vous, acouardiz,
    Pensez a ce que je diz;
    Cy fine ma chansonnelle;
    Sui-je, sui-je, sui-je belle?


        O folz des folz, et les folz mortelz hommes,
    Qui vous fiez tant es biens de fortune
    En celle terre, es pays ou nous sommes,
    Y avez-vous de chose propre aucune?
    Vous n'y avez chose vostre nes-une,
    Fors les beaulx dons de grace et de nature.
    Se Fortune donc, par cas d'adventur
    Vous toult les biens que vostres vous tenez,
    Tort ne vous fait, aincois vous fait droicture,
    Car vous n'aviez riens quant vous fustes nez.

        Ne laissez plus le dormir a grans sommes
    En vostre lict, par nuict obscure et brune,
    Pour acquester richesses a grans sommes.
    Ne convoitez chose dessoubz la lune,
    Ne de Paris jusques a Pampelune,
    Fors ce qui fault, sans plus, a creature
    Pour recouvrer sa simple nourriture.
    Souffise vous d'estre bien renommez,
    Et d'emporter bon loz en sepulture:
    Car vous n'aviez riens quant vous fustes nez.

        Les joyeulx fruictz des arbres, et les pommes,
    Au temps que fut toute chose commune,
    Le beau miel, les glandes et les gommes
    Souffisoient bien a chascun et chascune:
    Et pour ce fut sans noise et sans rancune.
    Soyez contens des chaulx et des froidures,
    Et me prenez Fortune doulce et seure.
    Pour vos pertes, griefve dueil n'en menez,
    Fors a raison, a point, et a mesure,
    Car vous n'aviez riens quant vous fustes nez.

        Se Fortune vous fait aucune injure,
    C'est de son droit, ja ne l'en reprenez,
    Et perdissiez jusques a la vesture:
    Car vous n'aviez riens quant vous fustes nez.


        Le temps a laissie son manteau
    De vent, de froidure et de pluye,
    Et s'est vestu de brouderie,
    De soleil luyant, cler et beau.
        Il n'y a beste, ne oyseau,
    Qu'en son jargon ne chante ou crie:
    Le temps a laissie son manteau
    De vent, de froidure et de pluye.
        Riviere, fontaine et ruisseau
    Portent, en livree jolie,
    Gouttes d'argent d'orfavrerie,
    Chascun s'abille de nouveau:
    Le temps a laissie son manteau.


[110] The following is an account of these forms, in their more
important developments. The _ballade_ consists of three stanzas, and an
_envoy_, or final half-stanza, which is sometimes omitted. The number of
the lines in each stanza is optional, but it should not usually be more
than eleven or less than eight. The peculiarity of the poem is that the
last line of every stanza is identical, and that the rhymes are the same
throughout and repeated in the same order. The examples printed at the
end of this chapter from Lescurel and Chartier will illustrate this
sufficiently. There is no need to enter into the absurdity of _ballades
équivoquées_, _emperières_, etc., further than to say that their main
principle is the repetition of the same rhyming word, in a different
sense, it may be twice or thrice at the end of the line, it may be at
the end and in the middle, it may be at the end of one line and the
beginning of the next. The _chant royal_ is a kind of major ballade
having five of the longest (eleven-lined) stanzas and an envoy of five
lines. The _rondel_ is a poem of thirteen lines (sometimes made into
fourteen by an extra repetition), consisting of two quatrains and a
five-lined stanza, the first two lines of the first quatrain being
repeated as the last two of the second, and the first line of all being
added once more at the end. The _rondeau_, a poem of thirteen, fourteen,
or fifteen lines, is arranged in stanzas of five, four, and four, five,
or six lines, the last line of the second and third stanzas consisting
of the first words of the first line of the poem. The _triolet_ is a
sort of rondel of eight lines only, repeating the first line at the
fourth, and the first and second at the seventh and eighth. Lastly, the
_villanelle_ alternates one of two refrain lines at the end of each
three-lined stanza. These are the principal forms, though there are many

[111] Ed. Montaiglon. Paris, 1855.

[112] The Rondeau is not in Lescurel systematised into any regular form.

[113] Ed. L. de Mas Latrie. Société de l'Orient Latin, Geneva, 1877.
This is a poem not much shorter than the _Voir Dit_, but continuously
octosyllabic and very spirited. The final account of the murder of
Pierre (which he provoked by the most brutal oppression of his vassals)
is full of power.

[114] Ed. P. Paris. Société des Bibliophiles, Paris, 1875. This is a
very interesting poem consisting of more than 9000 lines, mostly
octosyllabic couplets, with ballades, etc. interspersed, one of which is
given at the end of this chapter. It is addressed either to Agnes of
Navarre, or, as M. P. Paris thought, to Péronelle d'Armentières, and was
written in 1362, when the author was probably very old.

[115] Deschamps is said to have been also named Morel. A complete
edition of his works has been undertaken for the Old French Text Society
by the Marquis de Queux de Saint Hilaire.

[116] Ballades, 147, 149. Ed. Queux de St. Hilaire.

[117] Ed. Schéler. 3 vols. Brussels, 1870-1872.

[118] Ed. Héricault. 2 vols. Paris, 1874. Charles d'Orléans was the son
of the Duke of Orleans, who was murdered by the Burgundians, and of
Valentina of Milan. He was born in 1391, taken prisoner at Agincourt,
ransomed in 1449, and he died in 1465. His son was Louis XII.

[119] Ed. Queux de St. Hilaire. Paris, 1868.



[Sidenote: Origins of Drama.]

The origins of the drama in France, like most other points affecting
mediaeval literature, have been made the subject of a good deal of
dispute. It has been attempted, on the one hand, to father the mysteries
and miracle-plays of the twelfth and later centuries on the classical
drama, traditions of which are supposed to have been preserved in the
monasteries and other homes of learning. On the other hand, a more
probable and historical source has been found in the ceremonies and
liturgies of the Church, which in themselves possess a considerable
dramatic element, and which, as we shall see, were early adapted to
still more definitely dramatic purposes. Disputes of this kind, if not
exactly otiose, are not suited to these pages; and it is sufficient to
say that while Plautus and Terence at least retained a considerable hold
on mediaeval students, the natural tendencies to dramatic representation
which exist in almost every people, assisted by the stimulus of
ecclesiastical traditions, ceremonies, and festivals, are probably
sufficient to account for the beginnings of dramatic literature in

[Sidenote: Earliest Vernacular Dramatic Forms.]

[Sidenote: Mysteries and Miracles.]

[Sidenote: Miracles de la Vierge.]

It so happens too that such historical evidence as we have entirely
bears out this supposition. The earliest compositions of a dramatic kind
that we possess in French, are arguments and scraps interpolated in
Latin liturgies of a dramatic character. Earlier still these works had
been wholly in Latin. The production called 'The Prophets of Christ' is
held to date from the eleventh century, and consists of a series of
utterances of the prophets and patriarchs, who are called upon in turn
to bear testimony in reference to the Messiah, according to a common
patristic habit. By degrees other portions of Old Testament history were
thrown into the dramatic or at least dialogic form. In the drama or
dramatic liturgy of _Daniel_, fragments of French make their appearance,
and the Mystery of _Adam_ is entirely in the vulgar tongue. Both these
belong to the twelfth century, and the latter appears to have been not
merely a part of the church services, but to have been independently
performed outside the church walls. It is accompanied by full directions
in Latin for the decoration and arrangement of stage and scenes. Another
important instance, already mentioned, of somewhat dubious age, but
certainly very early, is the Mystery of _The Ten Virgins_. This is not
wholly in French, but contains some speeches in a Romance dialect. These
three dramas, _Daniel_, _Adam_, and _The Ten Virgins_, are the most
ancient specimens of their kind, which, from the thirteenth century
onward, becomes very numerous and important. By degrees a distinction
was established between mystery and miracle-plays, the former being for
the most part taken from the sacred Scriptures, the latter from legends
and lives of the Saints and of the Virgin. Early and interesting
specimens of the miracle are to be found in the _Théophile_ of
Ruteboeuf and in the _Saint Nicholas_ of Jean Bodel d'Arras, both
belonging to the same (thirteenth) century[120]. But the most remarkable
examples of the miracle-play are to be found in a manuscript which
contains forty miracles of the Virgin, dating from the fourteenth
century. Selections from these have been published at different times,
and the whole is now in course of publication by the Old French Text
Society[121]. As the miracles were mostly concerned with isolated
legends, they did not lend themselves to great prolixity, and it is rare
to find them exceed 2000 lines. Their versification is at first somewhat
licentious, but by degrees they settled down into more or less regular
employment of the octosyllabic couplet. Both in them and in the
mysteries the curious mixture of pathos and solemnity on the one side,
with farcical ribaldry on the other, which is characteristic of
mediaeval times, early becomes apparent. The mysteries, however, as they
became more and more a favourite employment of the time, increased and
grew in length. The narrative of the Scriptures being more or less
continuous, it was natural that the small dramas on separate subjects
should by degrees be attracted to one another and be merged in larger
wholes. It was another marked characteristic of mediaeval times that all
literary work should be constantly subject to _remaniement_, the facile
scribes of each day writing up the work of their predecessors to the
taste and demands of their own audience. In the case of the mysteries,
as in that of the _Chansons de Gestes_, each _remaniement_ resulted in a
lengthening of the original. It became an understood thing that a
mystery lasted several days in the representation; and in many
provincial towns regular theatres were constructed for the performances,
which remained ready for use between the various festival times. In the
form which these representations finally assumed in the fifteenth
century, they not only required elaborate scenery and properties, but
also in many cases a very large troop of performers. It is from this
century that most of the mysteries we possess date, and they are all
characterised by enormous length. The two most famous of these are the
_Passion_[122] of Arnould Gréban, and the _Viel Testament_[123], due to
no certain author. The _Passion_, as originally written in the middle of
the fifteenth century, consisted of some 25,000 lines, and thirty or
forty years later it was nearly doubled in length by the alterations of
Jean Michel. The _Mystère du Viel Testament_, of which no manuscript is
now known, but which was printed in the last year of the fifteenth
century, is now being reprinted, and extends to nearly 50,000 verses.
Additions even to this are spoken of; and Michel's _Passion_,
supplemented by a _Résurrection_, extended to nearly 70,000 lines, which
vast total is believed to have been frequently acted as a whole. In such
a case the space of weeks rather than days, which is said to have been
sometimes occupied in the performance of a mystery, cannot be thought

[Sidenote: Heterogeneous Character of Mysteries.]

The enormous length of the larger mysteries makes analysis of any one of
them impossible; but as an instance of the curious comedy which is
intermixed with their most serious portions, and which shocked critics
even up to our own time, we may take the scene of the Tower of Babel in
the _Mystère du Viel Testament_[124]. Here the author is not content
with describing Nimrod's act in general terms, or by the aid of the
convenient messenger; he brings the actual masons and carpenters on the
stage. _Gaste-Bois_ (Spoilwood), _Casse-Tuileau_ (Breaktile), and their
mates talk before us for nearly 200 lines, while Nimrod and others come
in from time to time and hasten on the work. The workmen are quite
outspoken on the matter. They do not altogether like the job; and one of
them says,

    On ne peut en fin que faillir.
    Besongnons; mais qu'on nous paie bien.

A little further on and they are actually at work. One calls for a hod
of mortar, another for his hammer. The labourers supply their wants, or
make jokes to the effect that they would rather bring them something to
drink. So it goes on, till suddenly the confusion of tongues falls upon
them, and they issue their orders in what is probably pure jargon,
though fragments of something like Italian can be made out. In the very
middle of this scene occurs a really fine and reverently written
dialogue between Justice and Mercy pleading respectively to the Divinity
for vengeance and pardon. Instances such as this abound in the
mysteries, which are sometimes avowedly interrupted in order that the
audience may be diverted by a farcical interlude.

[Sidenote: Argument of a Miracle Play.]

Of the miracles, that of _St. Guillaume du Désert_ will serve as a fair
example. It is but 1500 lines in length, yet the list of _dramatis
personae_ extends to nearly thirty, and there are at least as many
distinct scenes. William, count of Poitiers and duke of Aquitaine, has
rendered himself in many ways obnoxious to the Holy See. He has
recognised an anti-pope, has driven a bishop from his diocese for
refusing to do likewise, and has offended against morality. An embassy,
including St. Bernard, is therefore sent from Rome to warn and correct
him. William is not proof against their eloquence, and soon becomes
deeply penitent. He quits his palaces, and retires to the society of
hermits in the wilderness. These enjoin penances upon him. He is to have
a heavy hauberk immovably riveted on his bare flesh, and with sackcloth
for an overcoat to visit Rome and beg the Pope's forgiveness. He does
this, and the Pope sends him to the patriarch of Jerusalem, William
taking the additional penance as a proof of the heinousness of his sin.
After this he retires by himself into a solitary place. Here, however, a
knight of his country seeks him out, represents the anarchy into which
it has fallen in his absence, and implores him to return. But this is
not William's notion of duty. He refuses, and to be free from such
importunities in future, retires to the island of Rhodes, and there
lives in solitude. Irritated at the idea of his escaping them, Satan and
Beelzebub attack him and beat him severely; but he recovers by the
Virgin's intervention, and serves as a model to young devotees who seek
his cell, and like him become hermits. At last a chorus of saints
descends to see his godly end, which takes place in the presence of the
neophytes. The events, of which this is a very brief abstract, are all
clearly indicated in the short space of 1500 verses, many of which are
only of four syllables[125]. There is of course no attempt at drawing
any figure, except that of the saint, at full length, and this is
characteristic of the class. But as dramatised legends, for they are
little more, these miracles possess no slight merit.

The general literary peculiarities of the miracle and mystery plays do
not differ greatly from those of other compositions in verse of the same
time which have been already described. Their great fault is prolixity.
In the collection of the _Miracles de la Vierge_, the comparative
brevity of the pieces renders them easier to read than the long
compositions of the fifteenth century, and the poetical beauty of some
of the legends which they tell is sufficient to furnish them with
interest. Even in these, however, the absence of point and of dignity
in the expression frequently mars the effect; and this is still more the
case with the longer mysteries. Of these latter, however, the work of
the brothers Gréban--for there were two, Arnould and Simon,
concerned--contains passages superior to the general run, and in others
lines and even scenes of merit occur.

[Sidenote: Profane Drama.]

[Sidenote: Adam de la Halle.]

Although the existence of the drama as an actual fact was for a long
time due to the performance and popularity of the mysteries and
miracles, specimens of dramatic work with purely profane subjects are to
be found at a comparatively early date. Adam de la Halle, so far as our
present information goes, has the credit of inventing two separate
styles of such composition[126]. In _Li Jus de la Feuillie_ he has left
us the earliest comedy in the vulgar tongue known; in the pastoral drama
of _Robin et Marion_ the earliest specimen of comic opera. Independently
of the improbability that the drama, once in full practice, should be
arbitrarily confined to a single class of subject, there were many germs
of dramatic composition in mediaeval literature which wanted but a
little encouragement to develop themselves. The verse dialogues and
_débats_, which both troubadours and trouvères had favoured, were in
themselves incompletely dramatic. The _pastourelles_, an extremely
favourite and fashionable class of composition, must have suggested to
others besides the Hunchback of Arras the idea of dramatising them; and
the early and strongly-marked partiality of the middle ages for pageants
and shows of all kinds could hardly fail to induce those who planned
them to intersperse dialogue.

The plot of _Robin et Marion_ is simple and in a way regular. The
ordinary incidents of a _pastourelle_, the meeting of a fair shepherdess
and a passing knight, the wooing (in this case an unsuccessful one) and
the riding away, are all there. The piece is completed by a kind of
rustic picnic, in which the neighbouring shepherds and shepherdesses
join and disport themselves. Marion is a very graceful and amiable
figure; Robin a sheepish coward, who is not in the least worthy of her.
In Adam's other and earlier drama he is by no means so partial to the
feminine sex, and his work, though equally fresh and vigorous, is more
complex and less artistically finished. It is in part autobiographic,
and introduces Adam confessing to friends with sufficient effrontery his
intention of going to Paris and deserting his wife. This part contains a
very pretty though curiously unsuitable description of the wooing, which
has such an unlucky termination. Suddenly, however, the author
introduces his father, an old citizen, who is quite ready to encourage
his son in his evil ways provided it costs him nothing, and the piece
loses all regularity of plot. Divers citizens of Arras, male and female,
are introduced with a more or less satiric intention, and the last
episode brings in the personages of Morgue la Fée and of the _mesnie_
(attendants) of a certain shadowy King Hellequin. There is a doctor,
too, whose revelations of his patients' affairs are sufficiently comic,
not to say farcical. Destitute as it is of method, and approaching more
nearly to the Fabliau than to any other division of mediaeval literature
in the coarseness of its language, the piece has great interest, not
merely because of its date and its apparent originality, but because of
numerous passages of distinct literary merit. The picture of the
neglected wife in her girlhood is inferior to nothing of the kind even
in the thirteenth century, that fertile epoch of early French poetry.
The father, too, Maître Henri, the earliest of his kind on the modern
stage, has traits which the great comic masters would not disown.

The classes of later secular drama may be thus divided,--the monologue,
the farce, the morality, the _sotie_, the profane mystery. The first
four of these constitute one of the most interesting divisions of early
French literature; and it is to be hoped that before long easy access
will be afforded to the whole of it. The last is only interesting from
the point of view of literary history.

[Sidenote: Monologues.]

The monologue is the simplest form of dramatic composition and needs but
little notice, though it seems to have met with some favour from
playgoers of the time. By dint also of adroit changes of costume and
assistance from scenery, etc., the monologue was sometimes made more
complicated than appears at first sight possible, as for instance, in
the _Monologue du Bien et du Mal des Dames_, where the speaker plays
successively the parts of two advocates and of a judge. The monologue,
however, more often consisted in a dramatisation of the earlier _dit_,
in which some person or thing is made to declare its own attributes. Of
very similar character is the so-called _sermon joyeux_, which, however,
preserves more or less the form of an address from the pulpit, of course
travestied and applied to ludicrous subjects.

[Sidenote: Farces.]

The farce, on the other hand, is one of the most important of all
dramatic kinds in reference to French literature. It is a genuine
product of the soil, and proved the ancestor of all the best comedy of
France, on which foreign models had very little influence. Until the
discovery and acquisition by the British Museum of a unique collection
of farces the number of these compositions known to exist was not large,
and such as had been printed were difficult of access. It is still not
easy to get together a complete collection, but the reimpression of the
British Museum pieces in the _Bibliothèque Elzévirienne_[127] with M.
Ed. Fournier's _Théâtre avant la Renaissance_[128] contains ample
materials for judgment. In all, we possess about a hundred farces, most
of which are probably the composition of the fifteenth century, though
it is possible that some of them may date from the end of the
fourteenth. The most famous of all early French farces, that of
_Pathelin_, belongs, it is believed, to the middle or earlier part of
the fifteenth, and speaking generally, this century is the most
productive of theatrical work, at least of such as remains to us. The
subjects of these farces are of the widest possible diversity. In their
general character they at once recall the Fabliaux, and no one who reads
many of them can doubt that the one _genre_ is the immediate successor
of the other. The farce, like the Fabliau, deals with an actual or
possible incident of ordinary life to which a comic complexion is given
by the treatment. The length of these compositions is very variable, but
the average is perhaps about five hundred lines. Their versification is
always octosyllabic and regular. But a curious peculiarity is found in
most of them as well as in a few contemporary dramas of the serious
kind. From time to time the speeches of the characters are dovetailed
into one another so as to make up the Triolet (or rondeau of eight lines
with triple repetition of the first and double repetition of the
second), a form which in the fifteenth, seventeenth, and nineteenth
centuries has been a favourite with French poets of the lighter kind.
The number of personages is never large; it sometimes falls as low as
two (in which case the farce might in strictness be called, as it
sometimes is, a _débat_ or dialogue), and rarely, if ever, rises above
four or five. From what has already been said it will be seen that it is
not easy to give any general summary of the subjects of this curious
composition. Conjugal differences of one kind and another make up a very
large part of them, but by no means the whole, and there are few aspects
of contemporary bourgeois life which do not come in for treatment. As an
example we may take the _Farce du Pasté de la Tarte_[129]. The
characters are two thieves, a pastry-cook, and his wife. The farce opens
with a lamentable Triolet, in which the two thieves bewail their unhappy
state. Immediately afterwards, the pastry-cook, in front of whose shop
the scene is laid, calls to his wife and tells her that an eel-pie is to
be kept for him, and that he will send for it later, as he intends to
dine abroad. The two thieves overhear the conversation, and the token
which is to be given by the messenger, and after trying in vain to beg a
dinner, determine to filch one. Thief the second goes to the
pastry-cook's wife, gives the appointed token, and easily obtains the
pie, upon which both feast. Unluckily, however, this does not satisfy
them, and the successful thief, remembering a fine tart which he has
seen in the shop, decides that the possession of it would much improve
their dinner. He persuades his companion to try and secure it.
Meanwhile, however, the enraged pastry-cook has come home hungry and
demands his eel-pie. His wife in vain assures him that she has sent it
by the messenger who brought his token. Her husband disbelieves her;
words run high, and are followed by blows. At this juncture the first
thief appears and demands the tart, whereupon the irate pastry-cook
turns his rage upon him. The stick makes him confess the device, and
smarting under the blows, he is easily induced to make his companion a
sharer in his own sorrows. This is effected by an obvious stratagem. The
pastry-cook thus avenges himself of both his enemies, who however, with
some philosophy, console themselves with the fact that, after all, they
have had an excellent dinner without paying for it.

This piece serves as a fair example of the more miscellaneous farces, in
almost all of which the stick plays a prominent part, a part which it
may be observed retained its prominence at least till the time of
Molière. Of the farces dealing with conjugal matters, one of the most
decent, and perhaps the most amusing of all, is the _Farce du Cuvier_,
which has nothing to do with the story under the same title which may be
found (possibly taken from Apuleius) in Boccaccio, and in the Fabliaux.
In the farce a hen-pecked husband is obliged by his wife to accept a
long list of duties which he is to perform. Soon afterwards she by
accident falls into the washing-tub, and to all her cries for help he
replies 'cela n'est point à mon rollet' (schedule). Not a few also are
directed against the clergy, and these as a rule are the most licentious
of all. It is, however, rare to find any one which is not more or less
amusing; and students of Molière in particular will find analogies and
resemblances of the most striking kind to many of his motives. It is,
indeed, pretty certain that these pieces did not go out of fashion until
Molière's own time. The titles of some of the early and now lost pieces
which his company for so many years played in the provinces are
immediately suggestive of the old farces to any one who knows the
latter. The farce was moreover a very far-reaching kind of composition.
As a rule the satire which it contains is directed against classes, such
as women, the clergy, pedants, and so forth, who had nothing directly to
do with politics, and it is thus, more or less directly, the ancestor of
the comedy of manners. It is never, properly speaking, political, even
indirect allusions to politics being excluded from it. It relies wholly
upon domestic and personal interests. Not a few farces, such as that of
which we have given a sketch, turn upon the same subject as the _Repues
Franches_ attributed to Villon, and deal with the ingenious methods
adopted by persons who hang loose upon society for securing their daily
bread. Others attack the fertile subject of domestic service, and
furnish not a few parallels to Swift's _Directions_. Every now and then
however we come across a farce, or at least a piece bearing the title,
in which a more allegorical style of treatment is attempted. Such is the
farce of _Folle Bobance_, in which the tendency of various classes to
loose and light living is satirised amusingly enough. A gentleman, a
merchant, a farmer, are all caught by the seductive offers of Folle
Bobance, and are not long before they repent it. Such again is the
_Farce des Théologastres_, in which the students of the Paris
theological colleges are ridiculed, the _Farce de la Pippée,_ and many

[Sidenote: Moralities.]

In strictness, however, those pieces where allegorical personages make
their appearance are not farces but moralities. These compositions were
exceedingly popular in the later middle ages, and their popularity was a
natural sequence of the rage for allegorising which had made itself
evident in very early times, and had in the _Roman de la Rose_ dominated
almost all other literary tastes. The taste for personification and
abstraction has always lent itself easily enough to satire, and in the
fifteenth century pieces under the designation of moralities became very
common. We do not possess nearly as many specimens of the morality as of
the farce, but, on the other hand, the morality is often, though not
always, a much longer composition than the farce. The subjects of
moralities include not merely private vices and follies, but almost all
actual and possible defects of Church and State, and occasionally the
term is applied to pieces, the characters of which are not abstractions,
but which tell a story with a more or less moral turn. Sometimes these
pieces ran to a very great length, and one is quoted, _L'Homme Juste et
l'Homme Mondain_, which contains 36,000 lines, and must, like the longer
mysteries, have occupied days or even weeks in acting. A morality
however, on the average, consisted of about 2000 lines, and its
personages were proportionally more numerous than those of the farce.
Thus the _Moralité des Enfans de Maintenant_ contains thirteen
characters who are indifferently abstract and concrete; Maintenant,
Mignotte, Bon Advis, Instruction, Finet, Malduit, Discipline, Jabien,
Luxure, Bonté, Désespoir, Perdition, and the Fool. This list almost
sufficiently explains the plot, which simply recounts the persistence of
one child in evil and his bad end, with the repentance of the other. The
moralities have the widest diversity of subject, but most of them are
tolerably clearly explained by their titles. _La Condamnation de
Banquet_ is a rather spirited satire on gluttony and open housekeeping.
_Marchebeau_ attacks the disbanded soldiery of the middle of the
fifteenth century. _Charité_ points out the evils which have come into
the world for lack of charity. _La Moralité d'une Femme qui avait voulu
trahir la Cité de Romme_ is built on the lines of a miracle-play.
_Science et Asnerye_ is a very lively satire representing the superior
chances which the followers of _Asnerye_--ignorance--have of obtaining
benefices and posts of honour and profit as compared with those of
learning. _Mundus, caro, daemonia_, again tells its own tale. _Les
Blasphémateurs_, which is very well spoken of, but has not been
reprinted, rests on the popular legend upon which _Don Juan_ is also
based. In short, unless a complete catalogue were given, there is no
means of fully describing the numerous works of this class.

[Sidenote: Soties.]

The Sotie is a class of much more idiosyncrasy. Although we have very
few Soties (not at present more than a dozen accessible to the student),
although the contents of this class are as a rule duller even than those
of the moralities, and infinitely inferior in attraction to those of the
farces, yet the Sotie has the merit of possessing a much more distinct
and peculiar form. It is essentially political comedy, and it has the
peculiarity of being played by stock personages, like an Italian comedy
of the early kind. The Sotie, at least in its purely political form,
was, as might be expected, not very long lived. Its most celebrated
author was Gringore, and his Sotie, which forms part of _Le Jeu du
Prince des Sots et Mère Sotte_, is still the typical example of the
kind. Besides these two characters (who represent, roughly speaking, the
temporal and spiritual powers), we have in this piece, Sotte Commune,
the common people; Sotte Fiance, false confidence; Sotte Occasion, who
explains herself; and a good many other allegorical personages, such as
the Seigneur de Gayeté, etc. These pieces, however, are for the most
part so entirely occasional that their chief literary interest lies in
their curious stock personages. It should, however, be observed that of
the few Soties which we possess by no means all correspond to this
description, some of them being indistinguishable from moralities. A
curious detail is that the various pieces we have been mentioning were
sometimes, in representation, combined after the fashion of a regular
tetralogy. First came a monologue or _cry_ containing a kind of
proclamation. This was followed by the Sotie itself; then followed the
morality, and lastly a farce. The work of Gringore, just noticed, forms
part of such a tetralogy.

[Sidenote: Profane Mysteries.]

The profane mysteries may be briefly despatched. They were the natural
result of the vogue of the mysteries proper, with which they vie in
prolixity. Some of them were based on history or romance, such as, for
instance, the Mystery of _Troy_. Others corresponded pretty nearly to
the history plays of our own dramatists at a later period. Such is the
Mystery of the _Siege of Orleans_ which versifies and dramatises, at a
date very shortly subsequent to the actual events, the account of them
already made public in different chronicles.

[Sidenote: Societies of Actors.]

Of considerable interest and importance in connection with these early
forms of drama is the subject of the persons and societies by whom they
were represented, a subject upon which it is necessary to say a few
words. At first, as we have seen, the actors were members or dependents
of the clergy. As the mysteries increased in bulk and demanded larger
companies, their representation fell more and more into the hands of the
laity, even women in not a few cases acting parts, though this was
rather the exception than the rule. It became not unusual for the
guilds, which play such an important part in the social history of the
middle ages, to undertake the task, and at last regular societies of
actors were formed. The most famous of these, the _Confrérie de la
Passion_ (whose first object was to play the mystery, or rather cycle of
mysteries, known by that name), was licensed in 1402, and in the course
of the fifteenth century a very large number of rival bodies were more
or less formally constituted. The clerks of the Bazoche, or Palace of
Justice, had long been dramatically inclined, but it was not till this
time that they were recognised as, so to speak, the patentees of a
peculiar form of drama which in their case was the morality. The
_Enfants sans Souci_, young men of good families in the city, devoted
themselves rather to the Sotie, and the stock personages of that curious
form correspond to the official titles of the officers of their guild.
Besides these, many other similar but less durable and regularly
constituted societies arose, whose heads took fantastic titles, such as
Empereur de Galilée, Roi de l'Epinette, Prince de l'Etrille, and so
forth. No one of these, however, attained the importance of the
Confraternity of the Passion. This was chiefly composed of tradesmen and
citizens of Paris, and for a hundred and fifty years it continued to
play for the most part mysteries, sacred and profane alike, but the
latter, according to its name and profession, less commonly. In 1548 a
curious example of the change of times and manners took place, owing in
all probability to the influence, direct or indirect, of the
Reformation. The Confraternity had its charter renewed, but it was
expressly forbidden to play the sacred dramas which it had been
originally constituted to perform. Thenceforward secular plays only were
lawful in Paris, but the older dramas continued for a long time to be
performed in the provinces, and in Britanny have been acted within the
last half century. The Confraternity became regular actors of ordinary
farces, and as time went on were known under the title of the Comedians
of the Hôtel de Bourgogne, a name which brings us at once into the
presence of Molière. In these last sentences we have a little
outstripped the mediaeval period proper, but in dramatic matters there
is no gap between the ancient and modern theatre until we arrive at the

It is not very easy to illustrate the manner of the ancient French drama
by citations within ordinary compass; but the following passages, the
first from the Mystery of the _Passion_, the second from the original
form of _Pathelin_, may serve the purpose:--

        _Ici deschargent Jesus de la croix._

    _Simon._ or avant donc, puis que ainsi va.
      je ferai vostre voulenté;
      mais il me poise en verité
      de la honte que vous me faictes.
      o Jesus, de tous les prophettes
      le plus sainct et le plus begnin,
      vous venés a piteuse fin,
      veue vostre vie vertüeuse
      quant vostre croix dure et honteuse
      pour vostre mort fault que je porte.
      se c'est a tort, je m'en rapporte
      a ceulx qui vous ont forjugé.
        _Ici charge la croix a Simon._

    _Nembroth._ Messeigneurs, il est bien chargé;
      cheminons, depeschons la voie.

    _Salmanazar._ j'ai grant désir que je le voie
      fiché en ce hault tabernacle,
      a sçavoir s'il fera miracle,
      quant il sera cloué dessus.

    _Jéroboam._ seigneurs, hastés moi ce Jesus
      et ces deux larrons aux coustés.
      s'ilz ne vuellent, si les battez
      si bien qu'il n'y ait que redire.

    _Claquedent._ a cela ne tiendra pas, sire.
      nos en ferons nostre povoir.

    _Ici porte Simon une partie de la croix et
      Jesus l'autre et le battent les sergens._

    _Dieu le pere._ Pitié doit tout cueur esmouvoir
      en lamenter piteusement
      le martyre et le gref tourment
      que Jesus, mon chier filz, endure.
      il porte détresse tant dure,
      que, puis que le monde dura,
      homme si dure n'endura,
      laquelle ne peult plus durer
      sans la mort honteuse endurer,
      et n'aura son sainct corps duree
      tant qu'il ait la mort enduree,
      il appert, car plus va durant,
      et plus est tourment endurant,
      sans quelque confort qui l'alege.
      si convient que la mort abrege
      et de l'exécuter s'apreste,
      pour satiffaire a la requeste
      de dame Justice severe,
      qui pour requeste ne prïere
      ne veult rien de ses drois quitter.
      Michel, allés donc conforter
      en ceste amere passïon
      mon filz, plain de dilectïon,
      qui veult dure mort en gré predre
      et va sa doulce chair estrandre
      ou puissant arbre de la croix.

    _Sainct Michel._ pere du ciel et roi des rois,
      humblement a chere assimplie
      sera parfaicte et acomplie
      vostre voulenté juste et bonne.
      _Ici descendent les anges de paradis._

           *       *       *       *       *

    _Path._ ce bergier ne peut nullement
      respondre aux fais que l'on propose,
      s'il n'a du conseil; et il n'ose
      ou il ne scet en demander.
      s'il vous plaisoit moy commander
      que je fusse a luy, je y seroye.

    _Juge._ avecques luy? je cuideroye
      que ce fust trestoute froidure:
      c'est peu d'acquest. _Path._ mais je vous jure
      qu'aussi n'en veuil rien avoir:
      pour dieu soit. or je voys sçavoir
      au pauvret qu'il voudra me dire,
      et s'il me sçaura point instruire
      pour respondre aux fais de partie.
      il auroit dure departie
      de ce, qui ne le secourroit.
      vien ça, mon amy. qui pourroit
      trouver? entens. _Berg._ bee. _Path._ quel bee, dea!
      par le sainct sang que dieu crëa,
      es tu fol? dy moy ton affaire.

    _Berg._ bee. _Path._ quel bee! oys tu tes brebis braire?
      c'est pour ton prouffit; entens y.

    _Berg._ bee. _Path._ et dy ouÿ ou nenny,
      c'est bien faict. dy tousjours, feras?

    _Berg._ bee. _Path._ plus haut, ou tu t'en trouveras
      en grans depens, ou je m'en doubte.

    _Berg._ bee. _Path._ or est plus fol cil qui boute
      tel fol naturel en procés.
      ha, sire, renvoyez l'en a ses
      brebis; il est fol de nature.

    _Drapp._ est il fol? sainct sauveur d'Esture!
      il est plus saige que vous n'estes.

    _Path._ envoyez le garder ses bestes,
      sans jour que jamais ne retourne.
      que maudit soit il qui adjourne
      tels folz que ne fault adjourner.

    _Drapp._ et l'en fera l'en retourner
      avant que je puisse estre ouÿ?

    _Path._ m'aist dieu, puis qu'il est foul, ouÿ.
      pour quoy ne fera? _Drapp._ he dea, sire,
      au moins laissez moy avant dire
      et faire mes conclusïons.
      ce ne sont pas abusïons
      que je vous dy ne mocqueries.

    _Juge._ ce sont toutes tribouilleries
      que de plaider a folz ne a folles.
      escoutez, a moins de parolles
      la court n'en sera plus tenue.

    _Drapp._ s'en iront ilz sans retenue
      de plus revenir? _Juge._ et quoy doncques?

    _Path._ revenir? vous ne veistes oncques
      plus fol ne en faict ne en response:
      et cil ne vault pas mieulx une once.
      tous deux sont folz et sans cervelle:
      par saincte Marie la belle,
      eux deux n'en ont pas un quarat[130].


[120] These, as well as _The Ten Virgins_ and many other pieces soon to
be mentioned, are to be found in Monmerqué and Michel, _Théâtre François
au Moyen Age_, Paris, 1874, last ed.; _Adam_, ed. Luzarches, 1854.

[121] Vols. 1-6. Paris, 1876-1881.

[122] Ed. G. Paris and G. Raynaud. Paris, 1878.

[123] Ed. J. de Rothschild. Vols. i-iii. Paris, 1878-1881.

[124] _Mystère du Viel Testament_, i. 259-272.

[125] _Miracles de la Vierge_, ii. 1-54.

[126] See Monmerqué and Michel, _op. cit._

[127] _Ancien Théâtre Français_, vols. 1-3. Paris, 1854.

[128] Paris, n. d.

[129] _Ancien Théâtre Français_, ii. 64-79.

[130] A history of the mediaeval theatre has been undertaken by M. Petit
de Julleville, of which two volumes, containing an excellent account of
the Mysteries, have appeared (Paris, 1880). Information on other points
is rather scattered, but it will be found well summarised in Aubertin,
_Histoire de la Langue et de la Littérature Française au Moyen Age_
(Paris, 1876-8), i. 372-570. A complete collection of farces, _soties_,
etc. is hoped for from the Old French Text Society.



[Sidenote: Beginning of Prose Chronicles.]

[Sidenote: Grandes Chroniques de France.]

In all countries the use of prose for literature is chronologically
later than the use of poetry, and France is no exception to the rule.
The Chansons de Gestes were in their way historical poems, and they
were, as we have seen, soon followed by directly historical poems in
considerable numbers. It was not, however, till the prose Arthurian
romances of Map and his followers had made prose popular as a vehicle
for long narratives, that regular history began to be written in the
vulgar tongue. The vogue of these prose romances dates from the latter
portion of the twelfth century; the prose chronicle follows it closely,
and dates from the beginning of the thirteenth. It was not at first
original. The practice of chronicle writing in Latin had been frequent
during the earlier centuries, and at last the monks of three
monasteries, St. Benoit sur Loire, St. Germain des Prés, and St. Denis,
began to keep a regular register of the events of their own time,
connecting this with earlier chronicles of the past. The most famous and
dignified of the three, St. Denis, became specially the home of history.
The earliest French prose chronicles do not, however, come from this
place. They are two in number; both date from the earliest years of the
thirteenth century, and both are translations. One is a version of a
Latin compilation of Merovingian history; the other of the famous
chronicle of _Turpin_[131]. These two are composed in a southern
dialect bordering on the Provençal, and the first was either written by
or ascribed to a certain Nicholas of Senlis. The example was followed,
but it was not till 1274 that a complete vernacular version of the
history of France was executed by a monk of St. Denis--Primat--in French
prose. This version, slightly modified, became the original of a
compilation very famous in French literature and history, the _Grandes
Chroniques de France_, which was regularly continued by members of the
same community until the reign of Charles V, from official sources and
under royal authority. The work, under the same title but written by
laics, extends further to the reign of Louis XI. The necessity of
translation ceased as soon as the example of writing in the vernacular
had been set, though Latin chronicles continued to be produced as well
as French.

[Sidenote: Villehardouin.]

Long, however, before history on the great scale had been thus
attempted, and very soon after the first attempt of Nicholas of Senlis
had shown that the vulgar tongue was capable of such use, original prose
memoirs and chronicles of contemporary events had been produced, and, as
happens more than once in French literature, the first, or one of the
first, was also the best. The _Conquête de Constantinoble_[132] of
Geoffroy de Villehardouin was written in all probability during the
first decade of the thirteenth century. Its author was born at
Villehardouin, near Troyes, about 1160, and died, it would seem, in his
Greek fief of Messinople in 1213. His book contains a history of the
Fourth Crusade, which resulted in no action against the infidels, but in
the establishment for the time of a Latin empire and in the partition of
Greece among French barons. Villehardouin's memoirs are by universal
consent among the most attractive works of the middle ages. Although no
actually original manuscript exists, we possess a copy which to all
appearance faithfully represents the original. To readers, who before
approaching Villehardouin have well acquainted themselves with the
characteristics of the Chansons de Gestes, the resemblance of the
_Conquête de Constantinoble_ to these latter is exceedingly striking.
The form, putting the difference between prose and verse aside, is very
similar, and the merits of vigorous and brightly coloured language, of
simplicity and vividness of presentation, are identical. At the same
time either his own genius or the form which he has adopted has saved
Villehardouin from the crying defect of most mediaeval work, prolixity
and monotony. He has much to say as well as a striking manner of saying
it, and the interest of his work as a story yields in nothing to its
picturesqueness as a piece of literary composition. His indirect as well
as direct literary value is moreover very great, because he enables us
to see that the picture of manners and thought given by the Chansons de
Gestes is in the main strictly true to the actual habits of the
time--the time, that is to say, of their composition, not of their
nominal subjects. Villehardouin is the chief literary exponent of the
first stage of chivalry, the stage in which adventure was an actual fact
open to every one, and when Eastern Europe and Western Asia offered to
the wandering knight opportunities quite as tempting as those which the
romances asserted to have been open to the champions of Charlemagne and
Arthur. But, as a faithful historian, he, while putting the poetical and
attractive side of feudalism in the best light, does not in the least
conceal its defects, especially the perpetual jarring and rivalry
inevitable in armies where hundreds of petty kings sought each his own

[Sidenote: Minor Chroniclers between Villehardouin and Joinville.]

The Fourth Crusade was fertile in chroniclers. Villehardouin's work was
supplemented by the chronicle of Henri de Valenciennes, which is written
in a somewhat similar style, but with still more resemblance to the
manner and diction of the Chansons, so much so that it has been even
supposed, though probably without foundation, to be a rhymed Chanson
thrown into a prose form. This process is known to have been actually
applied in some cases. Another historian of the expedition whose work
has been preserved was Robert de Clari. Baldwin Count of Flanders, who
also accompanied it, was not indeed the author but the instigator of a
translation of Latin chronicles which, like the _Grandes Chroniques de
France_, was continued by original work and attained, under the title of
_Chronique de Baudouin d'Avesnes_, very considerable dimensions.

The thirteenth century also supplies a not inconsiderable number of
works dealing with the general history of France. Guillaume de Nangis
wrote in the latter part of the century several historical treatises,
first in Latin and then in French. An important work, entitled _La
Chronique de Rains_ (Rheims), dates from the middle of the period, and,
though less picturesque in subject and manner than Villehardouin, has
considerable merits of style. Normandy, Flanders, and, the Crusades
generally, each have groups of prose chronicles dealing with them, the
most remarkable of the latter being a very early French translation of
the work of William of Tyre, with additions[133]. Of the Flanders group,
the already mentioned chronicle called of Baudouin d'Avesnes is the
chief. It is worth mentioning again because in its case we see the way
in which French was gaining ground. It exists both in Latin and in the
vernacular. In other cases the Latin would be the original; but in this
case it appears, though it is not positively certain, that the book was
written in French, and translated for the benefit of those who might
happen not to understand that language.

[Sidenote: Joinville.]

As Villehardouin is the representative writer of the twelfth century, so
is Joinville[134] of the thirteenth, as far as history is concerned.
Jean de Joinville, Sénéchal of Champagne, was born in 1224 at the castle
of Joinville on the Marne, which afterwards became the property of the
Orleans family, and was destroyed during the Revolution. He died in
1319. He accompanied Saint Louis on his unfortunate crusade in 1248,
but not in his final and fatal expedition to Tunis. Most of the few
later events of his life known to us were connected with the
canonisation of the king; but he is known to have taken part in active
service when past his ninetieth year. His historical work, a biography
of St. Louis, deals chiefly with the crusade, and is one of the most
circumstantial records we have of mediaeval life and thought. It is of
much greater bulk than Villehardouin's _Conquête_, and is composed upon
a different principle, the author being somewhat addicted to gossip and
apt to digress from the main course of his narrative. It has, however,
to be remembered that Joinville's first object was not, like
Villehardouin's, to give an account of a single and definite enterprise,
but to display the character of his hero, to which end a certain amount
of desultoriness was necessary and desirable. His style has less vigour
than that of his countryman and predecessor, but it has more grace. It
is evident that Joinville occasionally set himself with deliberate
purpose to describe things in a literary fashion, and his interspersed
reflections on manners and political subjects considerably increase the
material value of his work. It is unfortunate that nothing like a
contemporary manuscript has come down to us, the earliest in existence
being one of the late fourteenth century, when considerable changes had
passed over the language. With the aid of some contemporary documents on
matters of business which Joinville seems to have dictated, M. de Wailly
has effected an exceedingly ingenious conjectural restoration of the
text of the book, but the interest of this is in strictness diminished
by the fact that it is undoubtedly conjectural. The period of
composition of Joinville's book was somewhat late in his life,
apparently in the first years of the fourteenth century, and about 1310
he presented it to Louis le Hutin, though it does not appear what became
of the manuscript.

The period between Joinville and Froissart is peculiarly barren in
chronicles. Besides the serial publications already noticed, the
_Chroniques de France_ and the _Chroniques de Flandre_, there are
perhaps only two which are worth mentioning. The first is a _Chronique
des Quatre Premiers Valois_, written with exactness and careful
attention to authentic sources of information. The other is the
_Chronique_ of Jean Lebel, canon of Liège. This is not only a work of
considerable merit in itself, but still more remarkable because it was
the model, and something more, of Froissart. That historian began by
almost paraphrasing the work of Lebel; and though by degrees he worked
the early parts of his book into more and more original forms according
to the information which he picked up, these parts remained to the last
indebted to the author from whom they had been originally compiled.

[Sidenote: Froissart.]

Froissart was born in 1337 and did not die till after 1409, the precise
date of his death being unknown. There are few problems of literary
criticism which are more difficult than that of arranging a definitive
edition of his famous Chroniques[135]. In most cases the task of the
critic is to decide which of several manuscripts, all long posterior to
the author's death, deserves most confidence, or how to supply and
correct the faults of a single document. In Froissart's case there is,
on the contrary, an embarrassing number of seemingly authentic texts.
During the whole of his long life, Froissart seems to have been
constantly occupied in altering, improving, and rectifying his work, and
copies of it in all its states are plentiful. The early printed editions
represent merely a single one of these; Buchon's is somewhat more
complete. But it is only within the last few years that the labours of
M. Kervyn de Lettenhove and M. Siméon Luce have made it possible (and
not yet entirely possible) to see the work in all its conditions. M.
Kervyn de Lettenhove's edition is complete and excellent as far as it
goes. That of M. Luce is still far from finished. The editor, however,
has succeeded in presenting three distinct versions of the first book.
This is the most interesting in substance, the least in manner and
style. It deals with a period most of which lay outside of Froissart's
own knowledge, and in treating which he was at first content to
paraphrase Jean Lebel, though afterwards he made this part of the book
much more his own. It never, however, attained to the gossiping
picturesqueness of the later books (there are four in all), in which the
historian relies entirely on his own collections. Although Cressy,
Poitiers, and Najara may be of more importance than the fruitless
_chevauchée_ of Buckingham through France, the gossip of the Count de
Foix' court, and the kite-and-crow battles of the Duke de Berri and his
officers with Aymerigot Marcel and Geoffrey Tête-Noire, they are much
less characteristic of Froissart. The literary instinct of Scott enabled
him (in a speech of Claverhouse[136]) exactly to appreciate our author.
Some of his admirers have striven to make out that traces of political
wisdom are to be found in the later books. If it be so, they are very
deeply hidden. A sentence which must have been written when Froissart
was more than fifty years old puts his point of view very clearly.
Geoffrey Tête-Noire, the Breton brigand, 'held a knight's life, or a
squire's, of no more account than a villain's,' and this is said as if
it summed up the demerits of the free companion. Beyond knights and
ladies, tourneys and festivals, Froissart sees nothing at all. But his
admirable power of description enables him to put what he did see as
well as any writer has ever put it. Vast as his work is, the narrative
and picturesque charm never fails; and in a thousand different lights
the same subject, the singular afterglow of chivalry, which the
influence of certain English and French princes kept up in the
fourteenth century, is presented with a mastery rare in any but the best
literature. He is so completely indifferent to anything but this, that
he does not take the slightest trouble to hide the misery and the
misgovernment which the practical carrying out of his idea caused.
Never, perhaps, was there a better instance of a man of one idea, and
certainly there never was any man by whom his one idea was more
attractively represented. To this day it is difficult even with the
clearest knowledge of the facts to rise from a perusal of Froissart
without an impression that the earlier period of the Hundred Years' War
was a sort of golden age in which all the virtues flourished, except for
occasional ugly outbreaks of the evil principle in the Jacquerie, the
Wat Tyler insurrection, and so forth. As a historian Froissart is, as
we should expect, not critical, and he carries the French habit of
disfiguring proper names and ignoring geographical and other trifles to
a most bewildering extent. But there is little doubt that he was
diligent in collecting and careful in recording his facts, and his
extreme minuteness often supplies gaps in less prolix chroniclers.

[Sidenote: Fifteenth-Century Chroniclers.]

The last century of the period which is included in this chapter is
extremely fertile in historians. These range themselves naturally in two
classes; those who undertake more or less of a general history of the
country during their time, and those who devote themselves to special
persons as biographers, or to the recital of the events which more
particularly concern a single city or district. The first class,
moreover, is more conveniently subdivided according to the side which
the chroniclers took on the great political duel of their period, the
struggle between Burgundy and France.

The Burgundian side was particularly rich in annalists. The study and
practice of historical writing had, as a consequence of the Chronicle of
Baudouin, and the success of Lebel and Froissart, taken deep root in the
cities of Flanders which were subject to the Duke of Burgundy, while the
magnificence and opulence of the ducal court and establishments
naturally attracted men of letters. Froissart's immediate successor,
Enguerrand de Monstrelet, belongs to this party. Monstrelet[137], who
wrote a chronicle covering the years 1400-1444, is not remarkable for
elegance or picturesqueness of style, but takes particular pains to copy
exactly official reports of speeches, treaties, letters, etc. Another
important chronicle of the same side is that of George Chastellain[138],
a busy man of letters, who was historiographer to the Duke of Burgundy,
and wrote a history of the years 1419-1470. Chastellain was a man of
learning and talent, but was somewhat imbued with the heavy and pedantic
style which both in poetry and prose was becoming fashionable. The
memoirs of Olivier de la Marche extend from 1435 to 1489, and are also
somewhat heavy, but less pedantic than those of Chastellain. Dealing
with the same period, and also written in the Burgundian interest, are
the memoirs of Jacques du Clerq, 1448-1467, and of Lefèvre de Saint
Rémy, 1407-1436; as also the Chronicle of Jehan de Wavrin, beginning at
the earliest times and coming down to 1472. Wavrin's subject is
nominally England, but the later part of his work of necessity concerns
France also.

The writers on the royalist side are of less importance and less
numerous, though individually perhaps of equal value. The chief of them
are Mathieu de Coucy, who continued the work of Monstrelet in a
different political spirit from 1444 to 1461; Pierre de Fenin, who wrote
a history of part of the reign of Charles VI; and Jean Juvenal des
Ursins[139], a statesman and ecclesiastic, who has dealt more at length
with the whole of the same reign. Of these Juvenal des Ursins takes the
first rank, and is one of the best authorities for his period; but from
a literary point of view he cannot be very highly spoken of, though
there is a certain simplicity about his manner which is superior to the
elaborate pedantry of not a few of his contemporaries and immediate

The second class has the longest list of names, and perhaps the most
interesting constituents. First may be mentioned _Le Livre des Faits et
bonnes Moeurs du sage roi Charles V._ This is an elaborate panegyric
by the poetess Christine de Pisan, full of learning, good sense, and
sound morality, but somewhat injured by the classical phrases, the
foreign idioms, and the miscellaneous erudition, which characterise the
school to which Christine belonged. Far more interesting is the _Livre
des Faits du Maréchal de Bouciqualt_[140], a book which is a not
unworthy companion and commentary to Froissart, exhibiting the kind of
errant chivalry which characterised the fourteenth century, and in part
the fifteenth, and which so greatly assisted the English in their
conflicts with the French. Joan of Arc was made, as might have been
expected, the subject of numerous chronicles and memoirs which have come
down to us under the names of Cousinot, Cochon, and Berry. The Constable
of Richemont, who had the credit of overthrowing the last remnant of
English domination at the battle of Formigny, found a biographer in
Guillaume Gruel.

Lastly have to be mentioned three curious works of great value and
interest bearing on this time. These are the journals of a citizen of
Paris[141] (or two such), which extend from 1409 to 1422, and from 1424
to 1440, and the so-called _Chronique scandaleuse_ of Jean de Troyes
covering the reign of Louis XI. These, with the already-mentioned
chronicle of Juvenal des Ursins, are filled with the minutest
information on all kinds of points. The prices of articles of
merchandise, the ravages of wolves, etc., are recorded, so that in them
almost as much light is thrown on the social life of the period as by a
file of modern newspapers. The chronicle of Jean Chartier, brother of
Alain, that of Molinet in continuance of Chastellain, and the short
memoirs of Villeneuve, complete the list of works of this class that
deserve mention.

Examples of the three great French historians of the middle ages


     La velle de la saint Martin vindrent devant Gadres en
     Esclavonie, si virent la cité fermee de halz murs et de
     haltes torz, et pour noiant demandissiés plus bele ne plus
     fort ne plus riche. et quant li pelerin la virent, il se
     merveillerent mult et distrent li uns a l'autre 'coment
     porroit estre prise tel vile par force, se diex meïsmes nel
     fait?' Les premieres nés vindrent devant la vile et
     aëncrerent et atendirent les autres et al matin fist mult
     bel jor et mult cler, et vinrent les galies totes et li
     huissier et les autres nés qui estoient arrieres, et
     pristrent le port par force et rompirent la chaaine qui mult
     ere forz et bien atornee, et descendirent a terre, si que li
     porz fu entr'aus et la vile. lor veïssiez maint chevalier et
     maint serjant issir des nés et maint bon destrier traire des
     huissiers et maint riche tref et maint pavellon.

     Einsine se loja l'oz et fu Gadres assegie le jor de la saint
     Martin. a cele foiz ne furent mie venu tuit li baron, ear
     encor n'ere mie venuz li marchis de Montferrat qui ere remés
     arriere por afaire que il avoit. Estiennes del Perche fu
     remés malades en Venise et Mahis de Monmorenci, et quant il
     furent gari, si s'en vint Mahis de Monmorenci aprés l'ost a
     Gadrez; mes Estienes del Perche ne le fist mie si bien, quar
     il guerpi l'ost et s'en ala en Puille sejorner. avec lui
     s'en ala Rotrox de Monfort et Ives de la Ille et maint
     autre, qui mult en furent blasmé, et passerent au passage de
     marz en Surie.

     L'endemain de la saint Martin issirent de cels de Gadres et
     vindrent parler le duc de Venise qui ere en son paveillon,
     et li distrent que il li rendroient la cité et totes les
     lor choses sals lor cors en sa merci. et li dus dist qu'il
     n'en prendroit mie cestui plet ne autre, se par le conseil
     non as contes et as barons, et qu'il en iroit a els parler.

     Endementiers que il ala parler as contes et as barons, icele
     partie dont vos avez oï arrieres, qui voloient l'ost
     depecier, parlerent as messages et lor distrent 'por quoi
     volez vos rendre vostre cité? li pelerin ne vos assaldront
     mie ne d'aus n'avez vos garde, se vos vos poëz defendre des
     Venisïens, dont estes vos quites.' et ensi pristrent un
     d'aus meïsmes qui avoit non Robert de Bove, qui ala as murs
     de la vile et lor dist ce meïsmes. Ensi entrerent li message
     en la vile et fu li plais remés. Li dus de Venise com il
     vint as contes et as barons, si lor dist 'seignor, ensi
     voelent cil de la dedanz rendre la cité sals lor cors a ma
     merci, ne je ne prendroie cestui plait ne autre se per voz
     conseill non' et li baron li respondirent 'sire, nos vos
     loons que vos le preigniez et si le vos prïon.' et il dist
     que il le feroit. Et il s'en tornerent tuit ensemble al
     paveillon le duc por le plait prendre, et troverent que li
     message s'en furent alé par le conseil a cels qui voloient
     l'ost depecier. E dont se dreça uns abes de Vals de l'ordre
     de Cistials, et lor dist 'seignor, je vos deffent de par
     l'apostoile de Rome que vos ne assailliez ceste cité, quar
     ele est de crestïens et vos iestes pelerin.' Et quant ce oï
     li dus, si en fu mult iriez et destroiz et dist as contes et
     as barons 'seignor, je avoie de ceste vile plait a ma
     volonté, et vostre gent le m'ont tolu et vos m'aviez convent
     que vos le m'aideriez a conquerre, et je vos semoing que vos
     le façoiz.'

     Maintenant li conte et li baron parlerent ensemble et cil
     qui a la lor partie se tenoient, et distrent 'mult ont fait
     grant oltrage cil qui ont cest plait desfet, et il ne fu
     onques jorz que il ne meïssent paine a cest ost depecier. or
     somes nos honi, se nos ne l'aidons a prendre.' Et il vienent
     al duc et li dïent 'sire, nos le vos aiderons a prendre por
     mal de cels qui destorné l'ont.' Ensi fu li consels pris; et
     al matin alerent logier devant les portes de la vile, et si
     drecierent lor perrieres et lor mangonials et lor autres
     engins dont il avoient assez; et devers la mer drecierent
     les eschieles sor les nés. lor commencierent a la vile a
     geter les pieres as murz et as lors. Ensi dura cil asals
     bien por v jors et lor si mistrent lors trenchëors a une
     tour, et cil commencierent a trenchier le mur. et quant cil
     dedenz virent ce, si quistrent plait tot atretel com il
     l'avoient refusé par le conseil a cels qui l'ost voloient


     Au mois d'aoust entrames en nos neis a la Roche de
     Marseille: a celle journée que nous entrames en nos neis,
     fist l'on ouvrir la porte de la nef, et mist l'on touz nos
     chevaus ens, que nous deviens mener outre mer; et puis
     reclost l'on la porte et l'enboucha l'on bien, aussi comme
     l'on naye un tonnel. pour ce que, quant le neis est en la
     grant mer, toute la porte est en l'yaue. Quant li cheval
     furent ens, nostre maistres notonniers escrïa a ses
     notonniers qui estoient ou bec de la nef et lour dist 'est
     aree vostre besoingne?' et il respondirent 'oïl, sire,
     vieingnent avant clerc et li provere.' Maintenant que il
     furent venu, il lour escrïa 'chantez de par dieu'; et il
     s'escrïerent tuit a une voiz '_veni creator spiritus_.' et
     il escrïa a ses notonniers 'faites voile de par dieu'; et il
     si firent. et en brief tens li venz se feri ou voile et nous
     ot tolu la vëue de la terre, que nous ne veïsmes que ciel et
     yaue: et chascun jour nous esloigna li venz des païs ou nous
     avions estei neiz. et ces choses vous moustre je que cil
     est bien fol hardis, qui se ose mettre en tel peril atout
     autrui chatel ou en pechié mortel; ear l'on se dort le soir
     la ou on ne set se l'on se trouvera ou font de la mer au

     En la mer nous avint une fiere merveille, que nous trouvames
     une montaigne toute ronde qui estoit devant Barbarie. nous
     la trouvames entour l'eure de vespres et najames tout le
     soir, et cuidames bien avoir fait plus de cinquante lieues,
     et lendemain nous nous trouvames devant icelle meïsmes
     montaigne; et ainsi nous avint par dous foiz ou par trois.
     Quant li marinnier virent ce, il furent tuit esbahi et nous
     distrent que nos neis estoient en grant peril; ear nous
     estiens devant la terre aus Sarrazins de Barbarie. Lors nous
     dist uns preudom prestres que on appeloit doyen de Malrut,
     ear il n'ot onques persecucïon en paroisse. ne par defaut
     d'yaue ne de trop pluie ne d'autre persecucïon, que aussi
     tost comme il avoit fait trois processïons par trois
     samedis, que diex et sa mere ne le delivrassent. Samedis
     estoit: nous feïsmes la premiere processïon entour les dous
     maz de la nef; je meïsmes m'i fiz porter par les braz, pour
     ce que je estoie grief malades. Onques puis nous ne veïsmes
     la montaigne, et venimes en Cypre le tiers samedi.


     Je fuis adont infourmé par le seigneur d'Estonnevort, et me
     dist que il vey, et aussi firent plusieurs, quant
     l'oriflambe fut desploiee et la bruïne se chey, ung blanc
     coulon voller et faire plusieurs volz par dessus la baniere
     du roy; et quant il eut assez volé, et que on se deubt
     combatre et assambler aux ennemis, il se print a sëoir sur
     l'une des bannieres du roy; dont on tint ce a grant
     signiffïance de bien. Or approchierent les Flamens et
     commenchierent a jetter et a traire de bombardes et de
     canons et de gros quarreaulx empenez d'arain; ainsi se
     commença la bataille. Et en ot le roy de France et ses gens
     le premier encontre, qui leur fut moult dur; ear ces
     Flamens, qui descendoient orgueilleusement et de grant
     voulenté, venoient roit et dur, et boutoient en venant de
     l'espaule et de la poitrine ainsi comme senglers tous
     foursenez, et estoient si fort entrelachiés tous ensemble
     qu'on ne les povoit ouvrir ne desrompre. La fuirent du costé
     des François par le trait des canons, des bombardes et des
     arbalestres premierement mort: le seigneur de Waurin,
     baneret, Morelet de Halwin et Jacques d'Ere. Et adont fut la
     bataille du roy reculee; mais l'avantgarde et l'arrieregarde
     a deux lez passerent oultre et enclouïrent ces Flamens, et
     les misrent a l'estroit. Je vous diray comment sur ces deux
     eles gens d'armes les commencierent a pousser de leurs
     roides lances a longs fers et durs de Bourdeaulx, qui leur
     passoient ces cottes de maille tout oultre et les perchoient
     en char; dont ceulx qui estoient attains et navrez de ces
     fers se restraindoient pour eschiever les horïons; ear
     jamais ou amender le peuïssent ne se boutoient avant pour
     eulx faire destruire. La les misrent ces gens d'armes a tel
     destroit qu'ilz ne se sçavoient ne povoient aidier ne ravoir
     leurs bras ne leurs planchons pour ferir ne eulz deffendre.
     La perdoient les plusieurs force et alaine, et la
     tresbuchoient l'un sur l'autre, et se estindoient et
     moroient sans coup ferir. La fut Phelippe d'Artevelle encloz
     et pousé de glaive et abatu, et gens de Gand qui l'amoient
     et gardoient grant plenté atterrez entour luy. Quant le page
     dudit Phelippe vey la mesadventure venir sur les leurs, il
     estoit bien monté sur bon coursier, si se party et laissa
     son maistre, ear il ne le povoit aidier; et retourna vers
     Courtray pour revenir a Gand.

     (A)insi fut faitte et assamblee celle bataille; et lors que
     des deux costez les Flamens furent astrains et encloz, ilz
     ne passerent plus avant, ear ilz ne se povoient aidier.
     Adont se remist la bataille du roy en vigeur, qui avoit de
     commencement ung petit branslé. La entendoient gens d'armes
     a abatre Flamens en grant nombre, et avoient les plusieurs
     haches acerees, dont ilz rompoient ces bachinets et
     eschervelloient testes; et les aucuns plommees, dont ilz
     donnoient si grans horrïons, qu'ilz les abatoient a terre. A
     paines estoient Flamens chëuz, quant pillars venoient qui
     entre les gens d'armes se boutoient et portoient grandes
     coutilles, dont ilz les partüoient; ne nulle pitié n'en
     avoient non plus que se ce fuissent chiens. La estoit le
     clicquetis sur ces bacinets si grant et si hault, d'espees,
     de haches, et de plommees, que l'en n'y ouoit goutte pour la
     noise. Et ouÿ dire que, se tous les heaumiers de Paris et de
     Brouxelles estoient ensemble, leur mestier faisant, ilz
     n'euïssent pas fait si grant noise comme faisoient les
     combatans et les ferans sur ces testes et sur ces bachinets.
     La ne s'espargnoient point chevalliers ne escuïers ainchois
     mettoient la main a l'euvre par grant voulenté, et plus les
     ungs que les autres; si en y ot aucuns qui s'avancerent et
     bouterent en la presse trop avant; ear ilz y furent encloz
     et estains, et par especïal messire Loÿs de Cousant, ung
     chevallier de Berry, et messire Fleton de Revel, filz au
     seigneur de Revel; mais encoires en y eut des autres, dont
     ce fut dommage: mais si grosse bataille, dont celle la fut,
     ou tant avoit de pueple, ne se povoit parfurnir et au mieulx
     venir pour les victorïens, que elle ne couste grandement.
     Car jeunes chevalliers et escuïers qui desirent les armes se
     avancent voulentiers pour leur honneur et pour acquerre
     loënge; et la presse estoit la si grande et le dangier si
     perilleux pour ceulx qui estoient enclos ou abatus, que se
     on n'avoit trop bonne ayde, on ne se povoit relever. Par ce
     party y eut des Françoiz mors et estains aucuns; mais plenté
     ne fut ce mie; ear quant il venoit a point, ilz aidoient
     l'un l'autre. La eut ung molt grant nombre de Flamens occis,
     dont les tas des mors estoient haulx et longs ou la bataille
     avoit esté; on ne vey jamais si peu de sang yssir a tant de

     Quant les Flamens qui estoient derriere veirent que ceulx
     devant fondoient et chëoient l'un sus l'autre et que ilz
     estoient tous desconfis, ilz s'esbahirent et jetterent leurs
     plançons par terre et leurs armures et se misrent a la
     fuitte vers Courtray et ailleurs. Ilz n'avoient cure que
     pour eulx mettre a sauveté. Et Franchois et Bretons aprés,
     quy les chassoient en fossez et en buissons, en aunois et an
     marés et bruieres, cy dix, cy vingt, cy trente, et la les
     recombatoient de rechief, et la les occïoient, se ilz
     n'estoient les plus fors. Si en y eut ung moult grant nombre
     de mors en la chace entre le lieu de la bataille et
     Courtray, ou ilz se retraioient a saulf garant. Ceste
     bataille advint sur le Mont d'Or entre Courtray et Rosebeque
     en l'an de grace nostre seigneur, mil iij'c. iiij'xx. et
     II., le jeudi devant le samedi de l'advent, le xxvij'e.
     jour de novembre, et estoit pour lors le roy Charles de
     France ou xiiij'e. an de son ëage.


[131] The chronicle of the pseudo-Turpin is of little real importance in
the history of French literature, because it is admitted to have been
written in Latin. The busy idleness of critics has however prompted them
to discuss at great length the question whether the _Chanson de Roland_
may not possibly have been composed from this chronicle. The facts are
these. Tilpin or Turpin was actually archbishop of Rheims from 753-794,
but nobody pretends that the chronicle going under his name is
authentic. All that is certain is that it is not later than 1165, and
that it is probably not earlier than the middle, or at most the
beginning, of the eleventh century, while the part of it which is more
particularly in question is of the end of that century. _Roland_ is
almost certainly of the middle at latest. Curiosity on this point may be
gratified by consulting M. Gaston Paris, _De pseudo-Turpino_, Paris,
1865, or M. Léon Gautier, _Epopées Françaises_, Paris, 1878. But, from
the literary point of view, it is sufficient to say that, while _Turpin_
is of the very smallest literary merit, _Roland_ is among the capital
works of the middle ages.

[132] Ed. N. de Wailly. Paris, 1874.

[133] Ed. P. Paris. 2 vols., 1879-80. It is characteristic of the middle
ages that this work usually bore the title of _Roman d'Eracle_, for no
other reason than that the name of Héraclius occurs in the first

[134] Ed. N. de Wailly. Paris, 1874. Besides the _Histoire de St.
Louis_, Joinville has left an interesting _Credo_, a brief religious
manual written much earlier in his life.

[135] Ed. Kervyn de Lettenhove. 20 vols., Brussels. Ed. S. Luce, Paris,
in course of publication. The edition of Buchon, 3 vols., Paris, 1855,
is still the best for general use. Froissart's poems give many
biographical details which are interesting, but unimportant. He wandered
all his life from court to court, patronised and pensioned by kings,
queens, and princes. He was successively _curé_ of Lestines and canon of
Chimay. In early life he was much in England, being specially patronised
by Edward III. and Philippa.

[136] _Old Mortality_, chap. 35.

[137] Ed. Buchon. Paris, 1858.

[138] Chastellain has been fortunate, like most Flemish writers, in
being excellently and completely edited (by M. Kervyn de Lettenhove. 8
vols., Brussels).

[139] Ed. Michaud et Poujoulat.

[140] Ed. Michaud et Poujoulat.

[141] Ed. Michaud et Poujoulat, in whose collection most of the many
authors here mentioned will be also found.



[Sidenote: General use of Prose.]

It was natural, and indeed necessary, that, when the use of prose as an
allowable vehicle for literary composition was once understood and
established, it should gradually but rapidly supersede the more
troublesome and far less appropriate form of verse. Accordingly we find
that, from the beginning of the thirteenth century, the amount of prose
literature is constantly on the increase. It happens, however, or, to
speak more precisely, it follows that this miscellaneous prose
literature is of much less importance and of much less interest than the
contemporary and kindred literature in verse. For in the nature of
things much of it was occupied with what may be called the journey-work
of literature,--the stuff which, unless there be some special attraction
in its form, grows obsolete, or retains a merely antiquarian interest in
the course of time. There was, moreover, still among the chief patrons
of literature a preference for verse which diverted the brightest
spirits to the practice of that form. Yet again, the best prose
composition of the middle ages, with the exception of a few works of
fiction, is to be found in its chronicles, and these have already been
noticed. A review, therefore, much less minute in scale than that which
in the first ten chapters of this book has been given to the mediaeval
poetry of France, will suffice for its mediaeval prose, and such a
review will appropriately close the survey of the literature of the
middle ages.

[Sidenote: Prose Sermons. St. Bernard.]

[Sidenote: Maurice de Sully.]

[Sidenote: Later Preachers. Gerson.]

It has already been pointed out in the first chapter that documentary
evidence exists to prove the custom of preaching in French (or at least
in _lingua romana_) at a very early date. It is not, however, till many
centuries after the date of Mummolinus, that there is any trace of
regularly written vernacular discourses. When these appear in the
twelfth century the Provençal dialects appear to have the start of
French proper. Whether the forty-four prose sermons of St. Bernard which
exist were written by him in French, or were written in Latin and
translated, is a disputed point. The most reasonable opinion seems to be
that they were translated, but it is uncertain whether at the beginning
of the thirteenth or the middle of the twelfth century. However this may
be, the question of written French sermons in the twelfth century does
not depend on that of St. Bernard's authorship. Maurice de Sully, who
presided over the See of Paris from 1160 to 1195, has left a
considerable number of sermons which exist in manuscripts of very
different dialects. Perhaps it may not be illegitimate to conclude from
this, that at the time such written sermons were not very common, and
that preachers of different districts were glad to borrow them for their
own use. These also are thought to have been first written in Latin and
then translated. But whether Maurice de Sully was a pioneer or not, he
was very quickly followed by others. In the following century the number
of preachers whose vernacular work has been preserved is very large; the
increase being, beyond all doubt, partially due to the foundation of the
two great preaching orders of St. Francis and St. Dominic. The existing
literature of this class, dating from the thirteenth, the fourteenth,
and the early fifteenth centuries, is enormous, but the remarks made at
the beginning of this chapter apply to it fully. Its interest is almost
wholly antiquarian, and not in any sense literary. Distinguished names
indeed occur in the catalogue of preachers, but, until we come to the
extreme verge of the mediaeval period proper, hardly one of what may be
called the first importance. The struggle between the Burgundian and
Orleanist, or Armagnac parties, and the ecclesiastical squabbles of the
Great Schism, produced some figures of greater interest. Such are Jean
Petit, a furious partisan, who went so far as to excuse the murder of
the Duke of Orleans, and Jean Charlier, or Gerson, one of the most
respectable and considerable names of the later mediaeval literature.
Gerson was born in 1363, at a village of the same name in Lorraine. He
early entered the Collège de Navarre, and distinguished himself under
Peter d'Ailly, the most famous of the later nominalists. He became
Chancellor of the University, received a living in Flanders, and for
many years preached in the most constantly attended churches of Paris.
He represented the University at the Council of Constance, and, becoming
obnoxious to the Burgundian party, sought refuge with one of his
brothers at Lyons, where he is said to have taught little children. He
died in 1429. Gerson, it should perhaps be added, is one of the numerous
candidates (but one of the least likely) for the honour of having
written the _Imitation_. He concerns us here only as the author of
numerous French sermons. His work in this kind is very characteristic of
the time. Less mixed with burlesque than that of his immediate
successors, it is equally full of miscellaneous, and, as it now seems,
somewhat inappropriate erudition, and far fuller of the fatal
allegorising and personification of abstract qualities which were in
every branch of literature the curse of the fourteenth and fifteenth
centuries. Yet there are passages of real eloquence in Gerson, though
perhaps the chief literary point about him is the evidence he gives of
the insufficiency of the language in its then condition for serious
prose work.

[Sidenote: Moral and Devotional Treatises.]

[Sidenote: Translators.]

[Sidenote: Political and Polemical Works.]

This is indeed the lesson of most of the writing which we have to notice
in this chapter. Next to sermons may most naturally be placed devotional
and moral works, for, as may easily be imagined, theology and
philosophy, properly so called, did not condescend to the vulgar tongue
until after the close of the period. Only treatises for the practical
use of the unlearned and ignorant adopted the vernacular. Of such there
are manuals of devotion and sketches of sacred history which date from
the thirteenth century, besides numerous later treatises, among the
authors of which Gerson is again conspicuous. The most popular, perhaps,
and in a way the most interesting of all such moral and devotional
treatises, is the book of the Chevalier de la Tour Landry[142], written
in the third quarter of the fourteenth century. This book, destined for
the instruction of the author's three daughters, is composed of Bible
stories, moral tales from ordinary literature and from the writer's
experience, precepts and rules of conduct, and so forth; in short, a
Whole Duty of Girls. Most however of the works of this sort which were
current were, as may be supposed, not original, but translated, and
these translations played a very important part in the history of the
language. The earliest of all are translations of the Bible, especially
of the Psalms and the book of Kings, the former of which may perhaps
date from the end of the eleventh century. Translations of the fathers,
and of the Lives of the Saints, followed in such numbers that, in 1199,
Pope Innocent III. blamed their indiscriminate use. The translation of
profane literature hardly begins much before the thirteenth century. In
this it becomes frequent; and in the following many classical writers
and more mediaeval authors in Latin underwent the process. But it was
not till the close of the fourteenth century that the most important
translations were made, and that translation began to exercise its
natural influence on a comparatively unsophisticated language, by
providing terms of art, by generally enriching the vocabulary, and by
the elaboration of the peculiarities of syntax and style necessary for
rendering the sentences of languages so highly organised as Latin and
Greek. Under John of Valois and his three successors considerable
encouragement was given by the kings of France to this sort of work, and
three translators, Pierre Bersuire, Nicholas Oresme, and Raoul de
Presles, have left special reputations. The eldest of these, Pierre
Bersuire or Bercheure, a friend of Petrarch, was born in 1290, and
towards the end of his life, about 1352, translated part of Livy.
Nicholas Oresme, the date of whose birth is unknown, but who entered the
Collège de Navarre in 1348, and is likely to have been at that time
thirteen or fourteen years old, and who became Dean of Rouen and Bishop
of Lisieux, translated, in 1370 and the following years, the _Ethics_,
_Politics_, and _Economics_ of Aristotle (from the Latin, not the
Greek). He died in 1382. Oresme was a good writer, and particularly
dexterous in adopting neologisms necessary for his purpose. Raoul de
Presles executed translations of the Bible and of St. Augustine's _De
Civitate Dei_. All these writers furnished an enlarged vocabulary to
their successors, the most remarkable of whom were the already mentioned
Christine de Pisan and Alain Chartier. The latter is especially
noteworthy as a prose writer, and the comments already made on his style
and influence as a poet apply here also. His _Quadriloge Invectif_ and
_Curial_, both satirical or, at least, polemical works, are his chief
productions in this kind. Raoul de Presles also composed a polemical
work, dealing chiefly with the burning question of the papal and royal
powers, under the title of _Songe du Verger_.

[Sidenote: Codes and Legal Treatises.]

It might seem unlikely at first sight that so highly technical a subject
as law should furnish a considerable contingent to early vernacular
literature; but there are some works of this kind both of ancient date
and of no small importance. England and Normandy furnish an important
contingent, the 'Laws of William the Conqueror' and the _Coutumiere
Normandie_ being the most remarkable: but the most interesting document
of this kind is perhaps the famous _Assises de Jérusalem_, arranged by
Godfrey of Bouillon and his crusaders as the code of the kingdom of
Jerusalem in 1099, and known also as the _Lettres du Sépulcre_, from the
place of their custody. The original text was lost or destroyed at the
capture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187; but a new _Assise_, compiled
from the oral tradition of the jurists who had seen and used the old,
was written by Philippe de Navarre in 1240, or thereabouts, for the use
of the surviving Latin principalities of the East. This was shortly
afterwards enlarged and developed by Jean d'Ibelin, a Syrian baron, who
took part in the crusade of St. Louis. These codes concerned themselves
only with one part of the original _Lettres du Sépulcre_, the laws
affecting the privileged classes; but the other part, the _Assises des
Bourgeois_, survives in _Le Livre de la Cour des Bourgeois_, which has
been thought to be older than the loss of the original. These various
works contain the most complete account of feudal jurisprudence in its
palmy days that is known, for the still earlier Anglo-Norman laws
represent a more mixed state of things. It was especially in Cyprus that
the Jerusalem codes were observed. The chief remaining works of the
same kind which deserve mention are the _Établissements de St. Louis_
and the _Livre de Justice et de Plet_, which both date from the time of
Louis himself; the _Conseil_, a treatise on law by Pierre de Fontaines,
who died in 1289, and the _Coutumes du Beauvoisis_ of Philippe de
Beaumanoir, who wrote in 1283. The legal literature of the fourteenth
century is abundant, but possesses considerably less interest.

[Sidenote: Miscellanies and Didactic Works.]

Last of all, before coming to prose fiction, a vast if not very
interesting class of miscellaneous prose work must be mentioned. The
word class has been used, but perhaps improperly, for classification is
almost impossible. Books of accounts and domestic economy of all sorts
(generally called _livres de raison_) were very common; treatises of all
kinds of more general character on household management abounded. We
have a _Ménagier de Paris_, a _Viandier de Paris_, both of the
fourteenth century. But much earlier the orderly and symmetrical spirit
which has always distinguished the French makes itself apparent in
literature. The _Livre des Métiers de Paris_ of Étienne Boileau, dating
from the thirteenth century, gives a complete idea of the organisation
of guilds and trades at that time. An innumerable multitude of treatises
on the minor morals, on love, on manners, exists in manuscript, and in
rare instances in print. The _Trésors_, or compendious encyclopædias,
which have already been noticed in verse, began in the thirteenth
century to be composed in prose, the most remarkable being that of
Brunetto Latini, the master of Dante, who avowedly used French as his
vehicle of composition, because it was the most commonly read of
European languages. This book was written apparently about or before
1270. Nor did the separate arts lack illustration in prose. Medicine and
alchemy, astronomy and poetry, war and chess, had their treatises, while
Bestiaries and Lapidaries are almost as numerous in prose as in verse.
Finally, there is the important category of books of travel. There are a
certain number of voyages to the Holy Land[143]; some miscellaneous
travels mostly, though not universally, translated from the Latin; and
last, but not least, the great book of Marco Polo, which seems to have
been written originally in French, the author, when in captivity at
Genoa, having dictated it to Rusticien of Pisa, who also figures as a
compiler of late versions of the Arthurian legend, and who thus had some
skill in French composition.

[Sidenote: Fiction]

The prose fiction of the period has been kept to the last, because it
expresses a different order of literary endeavour from those divisions
which have hitherto been treated. The language of the middle ages was
ill-suited for work other than narrative; for narrative work it was
supremely well adapted. Yet the prose fiction which we have is not on
the whole equal in merit to the poetry, though in one or two instances
it is of great value. The medium of communication was not generally
known or used until the period of decadence had been reached, and the
peculiar defects of mediaeval literature, prolixity and verbiage, show
themselves more conspicuously and more annoyingly in prose than in
verse. We have, however, some remarkable work of the later periods, and
in the latest of all we have one writer, Antoine de la Salle, who
deserves to rank with the great chroniclers as a fashioner of French

The French prose fiction of the middle ages resolves itself into several
classes: the early Arthurian Romances already noticed; the scattered
tales of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, which are chiefly to
be studied in two excellent volumes of the _Bibliothèque
Elzévirienne_[144]; the versions of such collections of legends, chiefly
oriental in origin, as the _History of the Seven Wise Men_ and the
_Gesta Romanorum_; the longer classical romances in prose; the late
prose _remaniements_ of the great verse epics and romances of the
twelfth century; and the more or less original work of the fifteenth
century, when prose was becoming an independent and coequal literary
exponent. The first class requires no further mention; of the third, the
editions of the _Roman des Sept Sages_, by M. Gaston Paris[145], and of
the _Violier des Histoires Romaines_, by M. Gustave Brunet[146], may be
referred to as sufficient instances; of the fourth a very interesting
specimen has been made accessible by the publication of the prose _Roman
de Jules César_ of Jean de Tuim[147], a free version from Lucan made
apparently in the course of the thirteenth century, and afterwards
imitated by the author of the verse romance; the fifth, though very
numerous, are not of much value, though the great romance of
_Perceforest_ and a few others may be excepted from this general
condemnation. The second and the last deserve a longer mention.

The tales of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, as published by
MM. Moland and Héricault, are eight in number. Those of the second
volume are on the whole inferior in interest to those of the first. They
consist of _Asseneth_, a graceful legend of the marriage of Joseph with
the daughter of the Egyptian high-priest; _Troilus_, interesting chiefly
as a prose version of Benoist de Ste. More's legend of _Troilus and
Cressida_, through the channel of Guido Colonna and Boccaccio; and a
very curious English story, that of the rebel Fulk Fitzwarine. The
thirteenth-century tales consist of _L'Empereur Constant_, the story
with which Mr. Morris has made English readers familiar under the title
of the 'Man born to be King;' of a prose version of the ubiquitous
legend of _Amis et Amiles_; of _Le roi Flore et la belle Jehanne_, a
kind of version of _Griselda_, though the particular trial and
exhibition of fidelity is quite different; of the _Comtesse de
Ponthieu_, the least interesting of all; and lastly, of the finest prose
tale of the French middle ages, _Aucassin et Nicolette_. In this
exquisite story Aucassin, the son of the count of Beaucaire, falls in
love with Nicolette, a captive damsel. It is very short, and is written
in mingled verse and prose. The theme is for the most part nothing but
the desperate love of Aucassin, which is careless of religion, which
makes him indifferent to the joy of battle and to everything, except
'Nicolette ma très-douce mie,' and which is, of course, at last
rewarded. But the extreme beauty of the separate scenes makes it a

[Sidenote: Antoine de la Salle.]

Antoine de la Salle is one of the most fortunate of authors. The
tendency of modern criticism is generally to endeavour to prove that
some famous author has been wrongly credited with some of the work which
has made his fame. Homer, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Rabelais, have all had
to pay this penalty. In the case of Antoine de la Salle, on the
contrary, critics have vied with each other in heaping unacknowledged
masterpieces on his head. His only acknowledged work is the charming
romance of _Petit Jean de Saintré_[148]. The first thing added to this
has been the admirable satire of the _Quinze Joyes du Mariage_[149], the
next the famous collection of the _Cent Nouvelles_[150], and the last
the still more famous farce of _Pathelin_[151]. There are for once few
or no external reasons why these various attributions should not be
admitted, while there are many internal ones why they should. Antoine de
la Salle was born in 1398, and spent his life in the employment of
different kings and princes;--Louis III of Anjou, King of Naples, his
son the good King René, the count of Saint Pol, and Philip the Good of
Burgundy, who was his natural sovereign. Nothing is known of him after
1461. Of the three prose works which have been attributed to him--there
are others of a didactic character in manuscript--the _Quinze Joyes du
Mariage_ is extremely brief, but it contains the quintessence of all the
satire on that honourable estate which the middle ages had elaborated.
Every chapter--there is one for each 'joy' with a prologue and
conclusion--ends with a variation on this phrase descriptive of the
unhappy Benedict, 'est sy est enclose dans la nasse, et à l'aventure ne
s'en repent point et s'il n'y estait il se y mettroit bientot; la usera
sa vue en languissant, et finira misérablement ses jours.' The satire is
much quieter and of a more humorous and less boisterous character than
was usual at the time. The _Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles_ are to all intents
and purposes prose _fabliaux_. They have the full licence of that class
of composition, its sparkling fun, its truth to the conditions of
ordinary human life. Many of them are taken from the work of the Italian
novelists, but all are handled in a thoroughly original manner. In style
they are perhaps the best of all the late mediaeval prose works, being
clear, precise, and definite without the least appearance of baldness or
dryness. _Petit Jehan de Saintré_ is, together with the _Chronique de
Messire Jacques de Lalaing_[152] of Georges Chastellain (a delightful
biography, which is not a work of fiction), the hand-book of the last
age of chivalry. Jehan de Saintré, who was a real person of the
preceding century, but from whom the novelist borrows little or nothing
but his name, falls in love with a lady who is known by the fantastic
title of 'la dame des belles cousines.' He wins general favour by his
courtesy, true love, and prowess; but during his absence in quest of
adventures, his faithless mistress betrays him for a rich abbot. The
latter part of this book exhibits something of the satiric intention,
which was never long absent from the author's mind; the former contains
a picture, artificial perhaps, but singularly graceful, of the elaborate
religion, as it may almost be called, of chivalry. Strikingly evident in
the book is the surest of all signs of a dying stage of society, the
most delicate observation and sympathetic description joined to
sarcastic and ironical criticism.

As examples of this prose literature we may take a fragment of one of
the sermons attributed to St. Bernard (twelfth century), an extract from
_Aucassin et Nicolette_ (thirteenth century), and one from the _Curial_
of Alain Chartier (early fifteenth century):--


     Granz est ceste mers, chier frere, et molt large, c'est
     ceste presente vie ke molt est amere et molt plaine de granz
     ondes, ou trois manieres de gent puyent solement
     trespesseir, ensi k'il delivreit en soient, et chascuns en
     sa maniere. Troi homme sunt: Noë, Danïel et Job. Li primiers
     de cez trois trespesset a neif, li seconz par pont et li
     tierz par weit. Cist troi homme signifïent trois ordenes ki
     sunt en sainte eglise. Noë conduist l'arche par mei lo peril
     del duluve, en cui je reconois aparmenmes la forme de ceos
     qui sainte eglise ont a governeir. Danïel, qui apeleiz est
     bers de desiers, ki abstinens fut et chastes, il est li
     ordenes des penanz et des continanz ki entendent solement a
     deu. Et Job, ki droituriers despensiers fut de la sustance
     de cest munde, signifïet lo fëaule peule qui est en
     marïaige, a cuy il loist bien avoir en possessïon les choses
     terrienes. Del primier et del secont nos covient or parler,
     ear ci sunt or de present nostre frere, et ki abbeit sunt si
     cum nos, ki sunt del nombre des prelaiz; et si sunt assi ci
     li moine ki sunt de l'ordene des penanz dont nos mismes, qui
     abbeit sommes, ne nos doyens mies osteir, si nos par
     aventure, qui jai nen avignet, nen avons dons oblïeit nostre
     professïon por la grace de nostre office. Lo tierz ordene,
     c'est de ceos ki en marïaige sunt, trescorrai ju or
     briément, si cum ceos qui tant nen apartienent mies a nos
     cum li altre. c'est cil ordenes ki a vveit trespesset ceste
     grant meir; et cist ordenes est molt peneuous et perillous,
     et ki vait par molt longe voie, si cum cil ki nule sente ne
     quierent ne nule adrece. En ceu appert bien ke molt est
     perillouse lor voie, ke nos tant de gent i vëons perir, dont
     nos dolor avons, et ke nos si poc i vëons de ceos ki ensi
     trespessent cum mestiers seroit; ear molt est griés chose
     d'eschuïr l'abysme des vices et les fossés des criminals
     pechiez entre les ondes de cest seule, nomeyement or en cest
     tens ke li malices est si enforciez.


     Aucasins fu mis en prison si com vos avés, oï et entendu, et
     Nicolete fu d'autre part en le canbre. Ce fu el tans d'esté,
     el mois de mai, que li jor sont caut, lonc et cler, et les
     nuis coies et series. Nicolete jut une nuit en son lit, si
     vit la lune luire cler par une fenestre, et si oï le
     lorseilnol canter en garding, se li sovint d'Aucasin son ami
     qu'ele tant amoit. ele se comença a porpenser del conte
     Garin de Biaucaire qui de mort le haoit; si se pensa qu'ele
     ne remanroit plus ilec, que s'ele estoit acusee et li quens
     Garins le savoit, il le feroit de male mort morir. ele senti
     que li vielle dormoit qui aveuc li estoit. ele se leva, si
     vesti un blïaut de drap de soie que ele avoit molt bon; si
     prist dras de lit et touailes, si noua l'un a l'autre, si
     fist une corde si longe conme ele pot, si le noua au piler
     de le fenestre, si s'avala contreval le gardin, et prist se
     vesture a l'une main devant et a l'autre deriere; si
     s'escorça por le rousee qu'ele vit grande sor l'erbe, si
     s'en ala aval le gardin. Ele avoit les caviaus blons et
     menus recercelés, et les ex vairs et rïans, et le face
     traitice et le nés haut et bien assis, et les levretes
     vermelletes plus que n'est cerisse ne rose el tans d'esté,
     et les dens blans et menus, et avoit les mameletes dures qui
     li souslevoient sa vestëure ausi com ce fuissent II nois
     gauges, et estoit graille parmi les flans, qu'en vos dex
     mains le pëusciés enclorre; et les flors des margerites
     qu'ele ronpoit as ortex de ses piés, qui li gissoient sor le
     menuisse du pié par deseure, estoient droites noires avers
     ses piés et ses ganbes, tant par estoit blance la mescinete.
     Ele vint au postic; si le deffrema, si s'en isci par mi les
     rues de Biaucaire par devers l'onbre, ear la lune luisoit
     molt clere, et erra tant qu'ele vint a le tor u ses amis
     estoit. Li tors estoit faëlé de lius en lius, et ele se
     quatist delés l'un des pilers. si s'estraint en son mantel,
     si mist sen cief par mi une crevëure de la tor qui vielle
     estoit et anciienne, si oï Aucasin qui la dedens pleuroit et
     faisoit mot grant dol et regretoit se douce amie que tant
     amoit. et quant ele l'ot assés escouté, si comença a dire.


     La court, affin que tu l'entendes, est ung couvent de gens
     qui soubz faintise du bien commun sont assemblez pour eulx
     interrompre; ear il n'y a gueres de gens qui ne vendent,
     achaptent ou eschangent aucunes foiz leurs rentes ou leurs
     propres vestemens; ear entre nous de la court nous sommes
     marchans affectez qui achaptons les autres gens et
     autresfoiz pour leur argent nous leur vendons nostre
     humanité precïeuse. Nous leur vendons et achaptons autruy
     par flaterie ou par corrupcïons; mais nous sçavons tres bien
     vendre nous mesmes a ceulx qui ont de nous a faire. Combien
     donc y peus tu acquerir qui es certain sans doubte et sans
     peril? veulx tu aller a la court vendre ou perdre ce bien de
     vertu, que tu as acquis hors d'icelle court? Certes, frere,
     tu demandes ce que tu deusses reffuser, tu te fies en ce
     dont tu te deusses deffier et fiches ton esperance en ce que
     te tire a peril. Et se tu y viens, la court te servira de
     tant de mensonges controverses d'une part, et de l'autre de
     bailler tant de tours et de charges que tu auras dedans toy
     mesmes bataille continuëlle et soussiz angoisseux et pour
     certain homme qui pourra bonnement dire que ceste vie fust
     bieneuree qui par tant de tempestes est achatee et en tant
     de contrarïetez esprouvee.


[142] Ed. Montaiglon. Paris, 1854.

[143] A good example of these is the _Saint Voyage de Jérusalem_ of the
Seigneur d'Anglure (1385), edited by MM. Bonnardot and Longnon. Paris,

[144] _Nouvelles du 13'e et du 14'e siècle._ Ed. Moland et Héricault. 2
vols. Paris, 1856.

[145] Paris, 1876.

[146] Paris, 1858.

[147] Ed. Settegast. Halle, 1881.

[148] Ed. Guichard. Paris, 1843.

[149] Ed. Jannet. Paris, 1853; 2nd ed. 1857.

[150] Ed. Wright. Paris, 1858.

[151] Ed. Fournier, _Théâtre Français avant la Renaissance_. Paris, n. d.

[152] Ed. Kervyn de Lettenhove, viii. 1-259.



In the foregoing book a view has been given of the principal
developments of mediaeval literature in France. The survey has extended,
taking the extremest chronological limits, over some eight centuries.
But, until the end of the eleventh, the monuments of ancient French
literature are few and scattered, and the actual manuscripts which we
possess date in hardly any case further back than the twelfth. In
reality the history of mediaeval literature in France is the history of
the productions of the twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth and early
fifteenth centuries with a long but straggling introduction, ranging
from the eighth or even the seventh. Its palmy time is unquestionably in
the twelfth and the thirteenth. During these two hundred years almost
every kind of literature is attempted. Vast numbers of epic poems are
written; one great story, that of Arthur, exercises the imagination as
hardly any other story has exercised it either in ancient or in modern
times; the drama is begun in all its varieties of tragedy, comedy, and
opera; lyric poetry finds abundant and exquisite expression; history
begins to be written, not indeed from the philosophic point of view, but
with vivid and picturesque presentment of fact; elaborate codes are
drawn; vernacular homilies, not mere rude colloquial discourses, are
composed; the learning of the age, such as it is, finds popular
treatment; and in particular a satiric literature, more abundant and
more racy if less polished than any that classical antiquity has left
us, is committed to writing. It is often wondered at and bewailed that
this vigorous growth was succeeded by a period of comparative stagnation
in which little advance was made, and in which not a little decided
falling off is noticeable. Except the formal lyric poetry of the
fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, and the multiplied dramatic
energy of the latter, nothing novel or vigorous appears for some hundred
and forty years, until the extreme verge of the period, when the
substitution of the prose tale, as exemplified in the work attributed to
Antoine de la Salle, for the verse Fabliau, opens a prospect which four
centuries of progress have not closed. The early perfection of Italian,
a language later to start than French, has been regretfully compared
with this, and the blame has been thrown on the imperfection of
mediaeval arrangements for educating the people. The complaint is
mistaken, and almost foolish. It is not necessary to look much further
than Italian itself to see the Nemesis of a too early development.
French, like English, which had a yet tardier literary growth, has
pursued its course unhasting, unresting, to the present hour. Italian
since the close of the sixteenth century has contributed not a single
masterpiece to European literature, and not much that can be called good
second-rate. It is not impossible that the political troubles of
France--the Hundred Years' War especially--checked the intellectual
development of the country, but if so, the check was in the long run
altogether salutary. The middle ages were allowed to work themselves
out--to produce their own natural fruit before the full influx of
classical literature. What is more, a breathing time was allowed after
the exhaustion of the first set of influences, before the second was
felt. Hence the French renaissance was a far more vigorous growth than
the renaissance of Italy, which displays at once the signs of precocity
and of premature decay. But we are more immediately concerned at the
present moment with the literary results of the middle ages themselves.
It is only of late years that it has been possible fully to estimate
these, and it is now established beyond the possibility of doubt that to
France almost every great literary style as distinguished from great
individual works is at this period due. The testimony of Brunetto Latini
as to French being the common literary tongue of Europe in the
thirteenth century has been quoted, and those who have read the
foregoing chapters attentively will be able to recall innumerable
instances of the literary supremacy of France. It must of course be
remembered that she enjoyed for a long time the advantage of enlisting
in her service the best wits of Southern England, of the wide district
dominated by the Provençal dialects, and of no small part of Germany and
of Northern Italy. But these countries took far more than they gave: the
Chansons de Gestes were absorbed by Italy, the Arthurian Romances by
Germany; the Fabliaux crossed the Alps to assume a prose dress in the
Southern tongue; the mysteries and miracles made their way to every
corner of Europe to be copied and developed. To the origination of the
most successful of all artificial forms of poetry--the sonnet--France
has indeed no claim, but this is almost a solitary instance. The three
universally popular books (to use the word loosely) of profane
literature in the middle ages, the epic of Arthur, the satire of Reynard
the Fox, the allegorical romance of the Rose, are of French origin. In
importance as in bulk no literature of these four centuries could dare
to vie with French.

This astonishing vigour of imaginative writing was however accompanied
by a corresponding backwardness in the application of the vernacular to
the use of the exacter and more serious departments of letters. Before
Comines, the French chronicle was little more than gossip, though it was
often the gossip of genius. No philosophical, theological, ethical, or
political work deserving account was written in French prose before the
beginning of the sixteenth century. The very language remained utterly
unfitted for any such use. Its vocabulary, though enormously rich in
mere volume, was destitute of terms of the subtlety and precision
necessary for serious prose; its syntax was hardly equal to anything but
a certain loose and flowing narration, which, when turned into the
channel of argument, became either bald or prolix. The universal use of
Latin for graver purposes had stunted and disabled it. At the same time
great changes passed over the language itself. In the fourteenth century
it lost with its inflections not a little of its picturesqueness, and
had as yet hit upon no means of supplying the want. The loose
orthography of the middle ages had culminated in a fantastic redundance
of consonants which was reproduced in the earliest printed books. This,
as readers of Rabelais are aware, was an admirable assistance to
grotesque effect, but it was fatal to elegance or dignity except in the
omnipotent hands of a master like Rabelais himself. In the fifteenth
century, moreover, the stereotyped forms of poetry were losing their
freshness and grace while retaining their stately precision. The faculty
of sustained verse narrative had fled the country, only to return at
very long intervals and in very few cases. The natural and almost
childish outspokenness of early times had brought about in all
departments of comic literature a revolting coarseness of speech. The
farce and the prose tale almost outdo the more naïf _fabliau_ in this.
Nothing like a critical spirit had yet manifested itself in matters
literary, unless the universal following of a few accepted models may be
called criticism. The very motives of the mediaeval literature, its
unquestioning faith, its sense of a narrow circle of knowledge
surrounded by a vast unknown, its acceptance of classes and orders in
church and state (tempered as this acceptance had been by the sharpest
satire on particulars but by hardly any argument on general points),
were losing their force. Everything was ready for a renaissance, and the
next book will show how the Renaissance came and what it did.





[Sidenote: The Middle Ages and the Renaissance.]

[Sidenote: Characteristics of Fifteenth-century Literature.]

To determine at what period exactly mediaeval literature ceases in
France and modern literature begins, is not one of the easiest problems
of literary history. It has sometimes been solved by the obvious
expedient of making out of the fifteenth century a period of transition,
sometimes by continuing the classification of 'mediaeval' until the time
when Marot and Rabelais gave unmistakeable evidence of the presence and
working of the modern spirit. Perhaps, however, there may, after all,
have been something in the instinct which, in words clumsily enough
chosen, made Boileau date modern French poetry from Villon[153], and
there can hardly be any doubt that, as far as spirit if not form goes,
modern French prose dates from Comines. These two contemporary authors,
moreover, have in them the characteristic which perhaps more than any
other distinguishes modern from mediaeval literature, the predominance
of the personal element. In their works, especially if Villon be taken
with the immediately preceding and partially contemporary Charles
d'Orléans, a difference of the most striking kind is noticeable at once.
It is not that the prince who served the god Nonchaloir so piously is
deficient in personal characteristics or personal attractiveness, but
that his personality is still, so to speak, generic rather than
individual. He is still the Trouvère of the nobler class, dallying with
half-imaginary woes in the forms consecrated by tradition to the record
of them. Not so the vagabond whose words after four centuries appeal
directly to the spirit of the modern reader. That reader is cut off from
Charles d'Orléans' world by a gulf across which he can only project
himself by a great effort of study or of sympathetic determination. The
barriers which separate him from Villon are slight enough, consisting
mostly of trifling changes in language and manners which a little
exertion easily overcomes.

The latter portion of the fifteenth century, or, to speak more
correctly, its last two-thirds, have frequently been described as a
'dead season' in French literature. The description is not wholly just.
Even if, according to the plan just explained, we throw Charles
d'Orléans and Antoine de la Salle, two names of great importance, back
into the mediaeval period, and if we allow most of the chroniclers who
preceded Comines to accompany them, there are still left, before the
reign of Francis the First witnessed the definite blooming of the
Renaissance in France, the two names of consummate importance which
stand at the head of this chapter, a few minor writers of interest such
as Coquillart, Baude, Martial d'Auvergne, an interesting group of
literary or at least oratorical ecclesiastics, and a much larger and,
from a literary point of view, more important group of elaborate
versifiers, the so-called _grands rhétoriqueurs_ who preceded the
Pléiade in endeavouring to Latinise the French tongue, and whose stiff
verse produced by a natural rebound the easy grace of Clément Marot.
Each of these persons and groups will demand some notice, and the
mention of them will bring us to the Renaissance of which the subjects
of this chapter were the forerunners.

[Sidenote: Villon.]

François Villon[154], or Corbueil, or Corbier, or de Montcorbier, or des
Loges, was certainly born at Paris in the year 1431. Of the date of his
death nothing certain is known, some authorities extending his life
towards the close of the century in order to adjust Rabelais' anecdotes
of him[155], others supposing him to have died before the publication of
the first edition of his works in 1489. That Villon was not his
patronymic, whichsoever of his numerous aliases may really deserve that
distinction, is certain. He was a citizen of Paris and a member of the
university, having the status of _clerc_. But his youth was occupied in
other matters than study. In 1455 he killed, apparently in self-defence,
a priest named Philip Sermaise, fled from Paris, was condemned to
banishment in default of appearance, and six months afterwards received
letters of pardon. In 1456 a faithless mistress, Catherine de
Vausselles, drew him into a second affray, in which he had the worst,
and again he fled from Paris. During his absence a burglary committed in
the capital put the police on the track of a gang of young
good-for-nothings among whom Villon's name figured, and he was arrested,
tried, tortured, and condemned to death. On appeal, however, the
sentence was commuted to banishment. Four years after he was in prison
at Meung, consigned thither by the Bishop of Orleans, but the king,
Louis the Eleventh, set him free. Thenceforward nothing certain is known
of him. He had at one time relations with Charles d'Orléans. Such are
the bare facts of his singular life, to which the peculiar character of
his work has directed perhaps disproportionate attention. This work
consists of a poem in forty stanzas of eight octosyllabic lines (each
rhymed a, b, a, b, b, c, b, c) called the _Petit Testament_[156]; of a
poem in 173 similar stanzas called the _Grand Testament_, in which about
a score of minor pieces, chiefly ballades or rondeaux, are inserted; of
a _Codicil_ composed mainly of ballades; of a few separate pieces, and
of some ballades in _argot_, collectively called _Le Jargon_. Besides
these there are doubtful pieces, including a curious work called _Les
Repues Franches_, which describes in octaves like those of the
Testaments the swindling tricks of Villon and his companions, an
excellent Dialogue between two characters, the Seigneurs de Mallepaye
and Baillevent, and a still better Monologue entitled _Le Franc Archier
de Bagnolet_. The Little Testament was written after the affair with
Catherine de Vausselles, the Great Testament after his liberation from
the Bishop's Prison at Meung. Many of the minor poems contain allusions
which enable us to fix them to various events in the poet's life. The
first edition of his works was, as has been said, published in 1489. In
1533 he had the honour of having Marot for editor, and up to the date of
the Bibliophile Jacob's edition of 1854 (since when there have been
several editions), the number had reached thirty-two.

The characteristics of Villon may be looked at either technically or
from the point of view of the matter of his work. He had an
extraordinary mastery of the most artificial forms of poetry which have
ever been employed. The rondel, which Charles d'Orléans wrote with so
much grace, he did not use, but his rondeaux are generally exquisite.
The ballade, however, was his special province. No writer has ever got
the full virtue out of the recurrent rhymes and refrains, which are the
special characteristics of the form, as Villon has. No one has infused
into a mere string of names, such as his famous _Ballade des Dames du
Temps Jadis_ and others, such exquisitely poetical effects by dint of an
epithet here and there and of a touching burden. But the matter of his
verse is in many ways perfectly on a level with its manner. No one
excels him in startling directness of phrase, in simple but infinite
pathos of expression. Of the former, the sudden cry of the Belle
Heaulmière after the recital of her former triumphs--

    Que m'en reste-t-il? honte et péché;

and the despairing conclusion of the lover of La Grosse Margot--

    Je suis paillard, paillardise me suit--

are examples in point; of the latter the line in the rondeau to Death--

    Deux étions et n'avions qu'un coeur.

No one has bolder strokes of the picturesque, as for instance--

              De Constantinoble
    L'empérier aux poings dorés;

and no one can render the sombre horror of a scene better than Villon
has rendered it in the famous epitaph of the gibbeted corpses--

    La pluie nous a debués et lavés,
      Et le soleil desséchés et noircis,
    Pies, corbeaulx nous out les yeux cavés
      Et arrachés la barbe et les sourcils.

These are some of Villon's strongest points. Yet in his comparatively
limited work--limited in point of bulk and peculiar in style and
subject--he has contrived to show perhaps more general poetical power
than any other writer who has left so small a total of verse. The note
of his song is always true and always sweet; and despite the intensely
allusive character of most of it, and the necessary loss of the key to
many of the allusions, it has in consequence continued popular through
all changes of language and manners. Of very few French poets can it be
said as of Villon that their charm is immediate and universal, and the
reason of this is that his work is full of touches of nature which are
universally perceived, as well as distinguished by consummate art of
expression. In the great literature which we are discussing, the latter
characteristic is almost universally present, the former not so

[Sidenote: Comines.]

The literary excellence of Comines[157] is of a very different kind from
that of Villon, but he represents the changed attitude of the modern
spirit towards practical affairs almost as strongly as Villon does the
change in its relations to art and sentiment. Philippe de Comines was
born, not at the château of the same name which was then in the
possession of his uncle, but at Renescure, not very far from Hazebrouck.
His family name was Vandenclyte, and his ancestors (Flemings, as their
name implies) had been citizens of Ghent before they acquired seignorial
position and rank. The education of Comines was neglected (he never
possessed any knowledge of Latin), and his heritage was heavily
encumbered. He was born before 1447, and entered the service of Philip
of Burgundy and of his son Charles of Charolais, the future Charles le
Téméraire. Comines was present at Montlhéry and at the siege of Liège,
while he played a considerable part in the celebrated affair of
Péronne, when Louis XI. was in such danger. Before 1471 he had been
charged with several important negotiations by Charles, now duke, in
France, England, and Spain. But, either personally disobliged by
Charles, or, as seems most likely from the Memoirs, presaging with the
keen, unscrupulous intelligence of the time the downfall of the headlong
prince, he quitted Burgundy and its master in 1472 and entered the
service of Louis, from whom he had already accepted a pension. He was
richly rewarded, married an heiress in Poitou, and at one time enjoyed
the forfeited fief of Talmont, a domain of the first importance, which
he afterwards had to restore to its rightful owners, the La Tremouilles.
The accession of Charles VIII. was not favourable to him, and, having
taken part against the Lady of Beaujeu, he was imprisoned and deprived
of Talmont. But with his usual sagacity, he had in the Duke of Orleans,
afterwards Louis XII., chosen the representative of the side destined to
win in the long run. The Italian wars gave scope to his powers. He was
sent to Venice, was present at the battle of Fornovo, and met
Machiavelli at Florence. In the reign of Louis XII. he received new
places and pensions, and he died in 1511 aged at least sixty-four.

Comines is not a master of style, though at times the weight of his
thought and the simplicity of his expression combine to produce an
effect not unhappy. He has odd peculiarities of diction, especially
inversions of phrase and sudden apostrophes which enliven an otherwise
rather awkward manner of writing. Thus, in describing the bad education
of the young nobles of his time, he says, 'de nulles lettres ils n'ont
connaissance. Un seul sage homme on ne leur met à l'entour.' And in his
account of the operations before the battle of Morat he says, 'Il (the
Duke of Burgundy) séjourna à Losanne en Savoie où vous monseigneur de
Vienne le servîtes d'un bon conseil en une grande maladie qu'il eut de
douleur et de tristesse.' On the whole, however, no one would think of
reading Comines for the merit, or even the quaintness of his style, nor
can he be commended as a vivid, even if an inelegant describer. The
gallant shows which excited the imaginations of his predecessors, the
mediaeval chroniclers from Villehardouin to Froissart, find in him a
clumsy annalist and a not too careful observer. His interest is
concentrated exclusively on the turns of fortune, the successes of
statecraft, and the lessons of conduct to be noticed in or extracted
from the business in hand. With this purpose he is perpetually
digressing. The affairs of one country remind him of something that has
happened in another, and he stops to give an account of this. To a
certain extent the mediaeval influence is still strong on Comines,
though it shows itself in connection with evidences of the modern
spirit. He is religious to a degree which might be called ostentatious
if it were not pretty evidently sincere; and this religiosity is shown
side by side with the exhibition of a typically unscrupulous and
non-moral, if not positively immoral, statecraft. Again, his reflexions,
though usually lacking neither in acuteness nor in depth, are often
appended to a commonplace on the mutability of fortune, the error of
anger, the necessity of adapting means to ends, and so forth. Everywhere
in Comines is evident, however, the anti-feudal and therefore
anti-mediaeval conception of a centralised government instead of a loose
assemblage of powerful vassals. The favourite mediaeval ideal, of which
Saint Simon was perhaps the last sincere champion, finds no defence in
Comines; and it seems only just to allow him, in his desertion of the
Duke of Burgundy, some credit for drawing from the anarchy of the Bien
Public, and from his observations of Germany, England, and Spain, the
conclusion that France must be united, and that union was only possible
for her under a king unhampered by largely appanaged and only nominally
dependent princes. It should be said that the Mémoires of Comines are
not a continuous history. The first six books deal with the reign of
Louis XI. from 1465 to 1483. But the seventh is busied with Charles the
Eighth's Italian wars only, the author having passed over the period of
his own disgrace. Besides the Memoirs we possess a collection of
_Lettres et Négotiations_.[158]

[Sidenote: Coquillart.]

There are three persons who, while of very much less importance than
those just introduced to the reader, deserve a mention in passing as
characteristic and at the same time meritorious writers, during the
second and third quarters of the fifteenth century, the extreme verge of
which the life of all three appears to have touched. These are
Guillaume Coquillart, Henri Baude, and Martial d'Auvergne. All three
were poets, all three have been somewhat over-praised by the scholars
who in days more or less recent have drawn them from their obscurity,
but all three made creditable head against what was mistaken and absurd
in the literary fashions of the time. In the writings of all of them
moreover there is to be found something, if not much, which is
positively good, and which deserves the attention, hardly perhaps of the
general reader, but of students of literature. Coquillart[159] was a
native, and for great part of his life an inhabitant, of Rheims. The
extreme dates given for his birth and death are 1421 and 1510, but there
is in reality, as is usual in the case of all men of letters before the
sixteenth century, very little solid authority for his biography. It may
be mentioned that Marot declares him to have cut short his life by
gaming. A life can hardly be said to be cut short at ninety, nor is that
an age at which gaming is a frequent ruling passion. All that can be
said is that he was certainly, as we should now say, in the civil
service of the province of Champagne during the reign of Louis XI., that
like many other men of the time he united ecclesiastical with legal
functions, being not only a town-councillor but a canon, and that he has
left satirical works of some merit and importance. These last alone
concern us much. His chief production is a poem entitled _Les Droits
Nouveaux_, in octosyllabic verses, not arranged in stanzas of definite
length, but, on the other hand, interlacing the rhymes, and not in
couplets after the older fashion. The plan of this poem is by no means
easy to describe. It is partly a social satire, partly a professional
lampoon on the current methods of learning and teaching law, partly a
political diatribe on the alterations introduced into provincial and
national life and polity under Louis XI. Not very different in character
and exactly similar in form, except that it is arranged as the age would
have said _par personnages_, that is to say semi-dramatically, is the
_Plaidoyer de la Simple et de la Rusée_. The _Blason des Armes et des
Dames_ takes up a mediaeval theme in a mediaeval style. The _procureurs_
(advocates) of arms and of ladies endeavour to show each that his
client--war or love--deserves the chief attention of a prince. Here, as
elsewhere with Coquillart, though of course more covertly, satire
dominates. But the best of the pieces attributed to Coquillart are his
monologues. There are three of these, the _Monologue Coquillart_, the
_Monologue du Puys_, and the _Monologue du Gendarme Cassé_. This last is
a ferocious satire on its subject, coarse in language, like most of the
author's poems, but full of rude vigour. The professional soldier as
distinguished from the feudal militia or the train-bands of the towns
was odious to the later middle ages.

[Sidenote: Baude.]

Henri Baude[160] is a still less substantial figure. He seems to have
been an _élu_ (member of a provincial board) for the province of
Limousin, but to have lived mostly at Paris. He was born at Moulins
towards the beginning of the second quarter of the century, and formed
part of the poetical circle of Charles d'Orléans in his old age. He had
troubles with lawless seigneurs and with the police of Paris; he finally
succeeded in obtaining the protection of the Duke of Bourbon, and he did
not die till the end of the century. Only a selection from his poems has
yet been published. The chief thing remarkable about them (they are
mostly occasional and of no great length) is the plainness, the
directness, and, in not a few cases, the elegance of the diction, which
differs remarkably from the cumbrous phrases and obscure allusive
conceits of the time. Many of them are personal appeals for protection
and assistance, others are satirical. Baude had a peculiar mastery of
the rondeau form. His rondeau to the king, expressing a sentiment often
uttered by lackpenny bards in the days of patrons, is a good example of
his style, though it is hardly as simple and devoid of obscurity as

[Sidenote: Martial d'Auvergne.]

Martial d'Auvergne[161], or Martial de Paris (for by an odd chance both
of these local surnames are given him, probably from the fact that, like
Baude, he was a native of the centre of France and spent his life in
the capital), like Coquillart and Baude, was something of a lawyer by
profession, and has left work in prose as well as in verse. He certainly
died in 1508, and, as he is spoken of as _senio confectus_, he cannot
have been born much later than 1420, especially as his poem, the
_Vigilles de Charles VII._, was written on the death of that prince in
1461. This poem is of considerable extent, and is divided into nine
'Psalms' and nine 'Lessons.' The staple metre is the quatrain, but
detached pieces in other measures occur. A complete history of the
subject is given, and in some of the digressions there are charming
passages, notably one (given by M. de Montaiglon) on the country life.
Another very beautiful poem, commonly attributed to Martial, is entitled
_L'Amant rendu Cordelier au service de l'Amour_, a piece of amorous
allegory at once characteristic of the later middle ages, and free from
the faults usually found in such work. A prose work of a somewhat
similar kind, entitled _Arrêts d'Amour_, is known to be Martial's. In no
writer is there to be found more of the better part of Marot, as in the
light skipping verses:--

    Mieux vault la liesse,
    L'accueil et l'addresse,
    L'amour et simplesse,
        De bergers pasteurs,
    Qu'avoir à largesse
    Or, argent, richesse,
    Ne la gentillesse
        De ces grants seigneurs.

    Car ils ont douleurs
    Et des maulx greigneurs,
    Mais pour nos labeurs
        Nous avons sans cesse
    Les beaulx prés et fleurs,
    Fruitages, odeurs
    Et joye à nos coeurs
        Sans mal qui nous blesse.

There is something of the old _pastourelles_ in this, and of a note of
simplicity which French poetry had long lost.

[Sidenote: The Rhétoriqueurs.]

Such verse as this of Martial d'Auvergne was, indeed, the exception at
the time. The staple poetry of the age was that of the _grands
rhétoriqueurs_, as it has become usual to call them, apparently from a
phrase of Coquillart's. Georges Chastellain[162] was the great master of
this school. But to him personally some injustice has been done. His
pupils and successors, however, for the most part deserve the ill repute
in which they are held. This school of poetry had three principal
characteristics. It affected the most artificial forms of the artificial
poetry which the fourteenth century had seen established, the most
complicated modulations of rhyme, such as the repetition, twice or even
thrice at the end of a line, of the same sound in a different sense, and
all the other puerilities of this particular Ars Poetica. Secondly, it
pursued to the very utmost the tradition of allegorising, of which the
_Roman de la Rose_ had established the popularity. Thirdly, it followed
the example set by Chartier and his contemporaries of loading the
language as much as possible with Latinisms, and in a less degree,
because Greek was then but indirectly known, Graecisms. These three
things taken together produced some of the most intolerable poetry ever
written. The school had, indeed, much vitality in it, and overlapped the
beginnings of the Renaissance in such a manner that it will be necessary
to take note of it again in the next chapter. Some, however, of its
greatest lights belonged to the present period. Such were Robertet, a
heavy versifier and the author of letters not easily to be excelled in
pedantic coxcombry, who enjoyed much patronage, royal and other;
Molinet, a direct disciple of Chastellain, and, like him, of the
Burgundian party; and Meschinot (died 1509), a Breton, who has left us
an allegorical work on the 'Spectacles of Princes,' and poems which can
be read in thirty different ways, any word being as good to begin with
as any other. Such also was the father of a better poet than himself,
Octavien de Saint Gelais (1466-1502), who died young and worn out by
debauchery. Jean Marot, the father of Clément, was a not inconsiderable
master of the ballade, and has left poems which do not show to great
disadvantage by the side of those of his accomplished son. But the
leader of the whole was Guillaume Crétin (birth and death dates
uncertain), whom his contemporaries extolled in the most extravagant
fashion, and whom a single satirical stroke of Rabelais has made a
laughing-stock for some three hundred and fifty years. The rondeau
ascribed to Raminagrobis, the 'vieux poète français' of
_Pantagruel_[163], is Crétin's, and the name and character have stuck.
Crétin was not worse than his fellows; but when even such a man as Marot
could call him a _poète souverain_, Rabelais no doubt felt it time to
protest in his own way. Marot himself, it is to be observed, confines
himself chiefly to citing Crétin's _vers équivoqués_, which of their
kind, and if we could do otherwise than pronounce that kind hopelessly
bad, are without doubt ingenious. His poems are chiefly occasional
verse, letters, _débats_, etc., besides ballades and rondeaux of all

[Sidenote: Chansons du XV'ème Siècle.]

One charming book which has been preserved to us gives a pleasant
contrast to the formal poetry of the time. The _Chansons du XV'ème
Siècle_, which M. Gaston Paris has published for the Old French Text
Society[164], exhibit informal and popular poetry in its most agreeable
aspect. They are one hundred and forty-three in number, some of them no
doubt much older than the fifteenth century, but certainly none of them
younger. There are _pastourelles_, war-songs, love-songs in great
number, a few patriotic ditties, and a few which may be called pure
folksongs, with the story half lost and only a musical tangle of words
remaining. Nothing can be more natural and simple than most of these

[Sidenote: Preachers.]

Few of the miscellaneous branches of literature at this time deserve
notice. But there was a group of preachers who have received attention,
which is said by students of the whole subject of the mediaeval pulpit
in France to be disproportionate, but which they owe perhaps not least
to the citations of them in a celebrated and amusing book of the next
age, the _Apologie pour Hérodote_ of Henri Estienne. These are Menot
(1440-1518) and Maillard the Franciscans, and Raulin (1443-1514), a
doctor of the Sorbonne. These preachers, living at a time which was not
one of popular sovereignty, did not meddle with politics as preachers
had done in France before and were to do again. But they carried into
the pulpit the habit of satirical denunciation in social as well as in
purely religious matters, and gave free vent to their zeal. No
illustrations of the singular licence which the middle ages permitted on
such occasions are more curious than these sermons. Not merely did the
preachers attack their audience for their faults in the most outspoken
manner, but they interspersed their discourses (as indeed was the
invariable custom throughout the whole middle ages) with stories of all
kinds. In Raulin, the gravest of the three, occurs the famous history of
the church bells, which reappears in Rabelais, _à propos_ of the
marriage of Panurge.



    Villon sut le premier, dans ces siècles grossiers,
    Débrouiller l'art confus de nos vieux romanciers.

    _Art Poét._ Ch. 1.

[154] Ed. P. L. Jacob. Paris, 1854. Villon's life has been the subject
of numerous elaborate investigations, the latest and best of which is
that of A. Longnon. Paris, 1877. Dr. Bijvanck, a Dutch scholar, has
dealt since with the MSS.

[155] One of these anecdotes makes him patronised by Edward the _Fifth_
of England. But the very terms of it are unsuitable to that king.

[156] The reader may be reminded that the _Testament_ was a recognised
mediaeval style. It was satirical and allegorical, the legacies which it
gave being mostly indicative of the legatee's weaknesses or personal

[157] Ed. Chantelauze. Paris, 1881. Also usefully in Michaud et

[158] Ed. Kervyn de Lettenhove. 2 vols. Brussels, 1867-8.

[159] Ed. Héricault. 2 vols. Paris, 1857.

[160] Edited in part by J. Quicherat. Paris, 1856.

[161] Martial d'Auvergne had the exceptional good luck to be reprinted
in the 18th century (_Vigilles_ 1724, _Arrêts_ 1731), but he has not
recently found an editor, though an edition of the _Amant rendu
Cordelier_ has been for some time due from the Société des Anciens
Textes. The notice by M. de Montaiglon (the promised editor of the
edition just mentioned) in Crepet's _Poètes Français_, i. 427, has been
chiefly used here for facts.

[162] Ed. Kervyn de Lettenhove, as previously cited. For the remainder
of the poets reviewed in this paragraph, few of whom have found modern
editors, see Crepet, _Poètes Français_, vol. i.

[163] iii. 21.

[164] Paris, 1876.



[Sidenote: Hybrid School of Poetry.]

The beginnings of the Renaissance in France manifest, as we should
expect, a mixture of the characteristics of the later middle ages and of
the new learning. In those times the influence of reforms of any kind
filtered slowly through the dense crust of custom which covered the
national life of each people, and there is nothing surprising in the
fact that while Italy felt the full influence of the influx of classical
culture in the fifteenth century, that influence should be only
partially manifest in France during the first quarter of the sixteenth,
while it was not until the century was more than half over that it
showed itself in England. The complete manifestation of the combined
tendencies of mediaeval and neo-pagan thought was only displayed in
Shakespeare, but by that time, as is the wont of all such things, it had
already manifested itself partially, though in each part more fully and
characteristically, elsewhere. It is in the literature of France that we
find the most complete exposition of these partial developments. Marot,
Ronsard, Rabelais, Calvin, Garnier, Montaigne, will not altogether make
up a Shakespeare, yet of the various ingredients which go to make up the
greatest of literary productions each of them had shown, before
Shakespeare began to write, some complete and remarkable embodiment. It
is this fact which gives the French literature of the sixteenth century
its especial interest. Italy had almost ceased to be animated by the
genius of the middle ages before her literature became in any way
perfect in form, and the survival of the classical spirit was so strong
there that mediaeval influence was never very potent in the moulding of
the national letters. England had lost the mediaeval differentia, owing
to religious and political causes, before the Renaissance made its way
to her shores. But in France the two currents met, though the earlier
had lost most of its force, and, according to the time-honoured
parallel, flowed on long together before they coalesced. In the
following chapters we shall trace the history of this process, and here
we shall trace the first stage of it in reference to French poetry. In
the period of which Marot is the representative name, the earlier force
was still dominant in externals; in that of which Ronsard is the
exponent, the Greek and Latin element shows itself as, for the moment,

[Sidenote: Jean le Maire.]

[Sidenote: Jehan du Pontalais.]

Between the _rhétoriqueurs_ proper, the Chastellains and the Crétins and
the Molinets on the one hand, and Marot and his contemporaries and
disciples on the other, a school of poets, considerable at least in
numbers, intervened. The chief of these was Jean le Maire des
Belges[165]. He was the nephew of Molinet, and his birth at Belges or
Bavia in Hainault, as well as his literary ancestry and predilections,
inclined him to the Burgundian, or, as it was now, the Austrian side.
But the strong national feeling which was now beginning to distinguish
French-speaking men threw him on the side of the King of Paris, and he
was chiefly occupied in his serious literary work on tasks which were
wholly French. His _Illustrations des Gaules_ is his principal prose
work, and in this he displays a remarkable faculty of writing prose at
once picturesque and correct. The titles of his other works (_Temple
d'Honneur et de Vertu_, etc.) still recall the fifteenth century, and
the Latinising tradition of Chartier appears strong in him. But at the
same time he Latinises with a due regard to the genius of the language,
and his work, pedantic and conceited as it frequently is, stands in
singular contrast to the work of some of his models. Something not
dissimilar, though in this case the _rhétoriqueur_ influence is less
apparent, may be said of Pierre Gringore, whose true title to a place in
a history of French literature is, however, derived from his dramatic
work, and who will accordingly be mentioned later. Nor had the tradition
of Villon, overlaid though it was by the abundance and popularity of
formal and allegorising poetry, died out in France. At least two
remarkable figures, Jehan du Pontalais and Roger de Collérye, represent
it in the first quarter of the century. The former indeed[166] owes his
place here rather to a theory than to certain information; for if M.
d'Héricault's notion that Jehan du Pontalais is the author of a work
entitled _Contreditz du Songecreux_ be without foundation, Jehan falls
back into the number of half mythical Bohemians, bilkers of tavern bills
and successful out-witters of the officers of justice, who possess a
shadowy personality in the literary history of France. _Les Contreditz
du Songecreux_ ranks among the most remarkable examples of the liberty
which was accorded to the press under the reign of Louis XII., a king
who inherited some affection for literature from his father, Charles
d'Orléans, and a keen perception of the importance of literary
co-operation in political work from his ancestor, Philippe le Bel, and
his cousin Louis XI. In precision and strikingness of expression Jehan
recalls Villon; in the boldness of his satire on the great and the
bitterness of his attacks on the character of women he recalls Antoine
de la Salle and Coquillart. A trait illustrating the former power may be
found in the line descriptive of the hen-pecked man's condition--

    Tous ses cinq sens lui fault retraire.

while his attacks on the nobility are almost up to the level of Burns--

    Noblesse enrichie Richesse ennoblie Tiennent leurs estatz,
    Qui n'a noble vie Je vous certifie Noble n'est pas.

[Sidenote: Roger de Collérye.]

[Sidenote: Minor Predecessors of Marot.]

Roger de Collérye[167] was a Burgundian, living at the famous and vinous
town of Auxerre, and he has celebrated his loves, his distress, his
amiable tendency to conviviality, in many rondeaux and other poems,
sometimes attaining a very high level of excellence. 'Je suis
Bon-temps, vous le voyez' is the second line of one of his irregular
ballades, and the nickname expresses his general attitude well enough.
Mediaeval legacies of allegory, however, supply him with more unpleasant
personages, Faute d'Argent and Plate-Bourse, for his song, and his
mistress, Gilleberte de Beaurepaire, appears to have been anything but
continuously kind. Collérye has less perhaps of the _rhétoriqueur_
flavour than any poet of this time before Marot, and his verse is very
frequently remarkable for directness and grace of diction. But like most
verse of the kind it frequently drops into a conventionality less
wearisome but not much less definite than that of the mere allegorisers.
Jehan Bouchet[168], a lawyer of Poitiers (not to be confounded with
Guillaume Bouchet, author of the _Sérées_), imitated the _rhétoriqueurs_
for the most part in form, and surpassed them in length, excelling
indeed in this respect even the long-winded and long-lived poets of the
close of the fourteenth century. Bouchet is said to have composed a
hundred thousand verses, and even M. d'Héricault avers that he read
two-thirds of the number without discovering more than six quotable
lines. Such works of Bouchet as we have examined fully confirm the
statement. Still, he was an authority in his way, and had something of a
reputation. His fanciful _nom de plume_ 'Le Traverseur des Voies
Périlleuses' is the most picturesque thing he produced, and is not
uncharacteristic of the later middle age tradition. Rabelais himself,
who was a fair critic of poetry when his friends were not concerned, but
who was no poet, and was even strikingly deficient in some of the
characteristics of the poet, admired and emulated Bouchet in heavy
verse; and a numerously attended school, hardly any of the pupils being
worth individual mention, gathered round the lawyer. Charles de Bordigné
is only remarkable for having, in his _Légende de Pierre Faifeu_, united
the _rhétoriqueur_ style with a kind of Villonesque or rather
pseudo-Villonesque subject. The title of the chief poems of Symphorien
Champier, _Le Nef des Dames Amoureuses_, sufficiently indicates his
style. But Champier, though by no means a good poet, was a useful and
studious man of letters, and did much to form the literary _cénacle_
which gathered at Lyons in the second quarter of the century, and which,
both in original composition, in translations of the classics, and in
scholarly publication of work both ancient and modern, rendered
invaluable service to literature. Gratien du Pont[169] continued the now
very stale mediaeval calumnies on women in his _Controverses des Sexes
Masculin et Féminin_. Eloy d'Amerval, a Picard priest, also fell into
mediaeval lines in his _Livre de la Déablerie_, in which the personages
of Lucifer and Satan are made the mouthpieces of much social satire.
Jean Parmentier, a sailor and a poet, combined his two professions in
_Les Merveilles de Dieu_, a poem including some powerful verse. A
vigorous ballade, with the refrain _Car France est Cymetièreaux
Anglois_, has preserved the name of Pierre Vachot. But the remaining
poets of this time could only find a place in a very extended literary
history. Most of them, in the words of one of their number, took
continual lessons _ès oeuvres Crétiniques et Bouchetiques_, and some
of them succeeded at last in imitating the dulness of Bouchet and the
preposterous mannerisms of Crétin. Perhaps no equal period in all early
French history produced more and at the same time worse verse than the
reign of Louis XII. Fortunately, however, a true poet, if one of some
limitations, took up the tradition, and showed what it could do. Marot
has sometimes been regarded as the father of modern French poetry,
which, unless modern French poetry is limited to La Fontaine and the
poets of the eighteenth century, is absolutely false. He is sometimes
regarded as the last of mediaeval poets, which, though truer, is false
likewise. What he really was can be shown without much difficulty.

[Sidenote: Clément Marot.]

Clément Marot[170] was a man of more mixed race than was usual at this
period, when the provincial distinctions were still as a rule maintained
with some sharpness. His father, Jean Marot, a poet of merit, was a
Norman, but he emigrated to Quercy, and Marot's mother was a native of
Cahors, a town which, from its Papal connections, as well as its
situation on the borders of Gascony, was specially southern. Clément was
born probably at the beginning of 1497, and his father educated him with
some pains in things poetical. This, as times went, necessitated an
admiration of Crétin and such like persons, and the practice of
rondeaux, and of other poetry strict in form and allegorical in matter.
As it happened, the discipline was a very sound one for Marot, whose
natural bent was far too vigorous and too lithe to be stiffened or
stunted by it, while it unquestionably supplied wholesome limitations
which preserved him from mere slovenly facility. It is evident, too,
that he had a sincere and genuine love of things mediaeval, as his
devotion to the _Roman de la Rose_ and to Villon's poems, both of which
he edited, sufficiently shows. He 'came into France,' an expression of
his own, which shows the fragmentary condition of the kingdom even at
this late period, when he was about ten years old. His father held an
appointment as 'Escripvain' to Anne of Brittany, and accompanied her
husband to Genoa in 1507. The University of Paris, and a short sojourn
among the students of law, completed Clément's education, and he then
became a page to a nobleman, thus obtaining a position at court or, at
least, the chance of one. It is not known when his earliest attempt at
following the Crétinic lessons was composed; but in 1514, being then but
a stripling, he presented his _Jugement de Minos_ to François de Valois,
soon to be king. A translation of the first Eclogue of Virgil had even
preceded this. Both poems are well written and versified, but decidedly
in the _rhétoriqueur_ style. In 1519, having already received or assumed
the title of 'Facteur' (poet) to Queen Claude, he became one of the
special adherents of Marguerite d'Angoulême, the famous sister of
Francis, from whom, a few years later, we find him in receipt of a
pension. He also occupied some post in the household of her husband, the
King of Navarre. In 1524 he went to Italy with Francis, was wounded and
taken prisoner at Pavia, but returned to France the next year.
Marguerite's immediate followers were distinguished, some by their
adherence to the principles of the Reformation, others by free thought
of a still more unorthodox description, and Marot soon after his return
was accused of heresy and lodged in the Châtelet. He was, however, soon
transferred to a place of mitigated restraint, and finally set at
liberty. About this time his father died. In 1528 he obtained a post and
a pension in the King's own household. He was again in difficulties, but
again got out of them, and in 1530 he married. But the next year he was
once more in danger on the old charge of heresy, and was again rescued
from the _chats fourrés_ by Marguerite. He had already edited the _Roman
de la Rose_, but no regular edition of his own work had appeared. In
1533 came out not merely his edition of Villon, but a collection of his
own youthful work under the pretty title _Adolescence Clémentine_. In
1535 the Parliament of Paris for a fourth time molested Marot.
Marguerite's influence was now insufficient to protect him, and the poet
fled first to Béarn and then to Ferrara. Here, under the protection of
Renée de France, he lived and wrote for some time, but the persecution
again grew hot. He retired to Venice, but in 1539 obtained permission to
return to France. Francis gave him a house in the Faubourg Saint
Germain, and here apparently he wrote his famous Psalms, which had an
immense popularity; these the Sorbonne condemned, and Marot once more
fled, this time to Geneva. He found this place an uncomfortable sojourn,
and crossed the Alps into Piedmont, where, not long afterwards, he died
in 1544.

Marot's work is sufficiently diverse in form, but the classification of
it adopted in the convenient edition of Jannet is perhaps the best,
though it neglects chronology. There are some dozen pieces of more or
less considerable length, among which may specially be mentioned _Le
Temple de Cupido_, an early work of _rhétoriqueur_ character for the
most part, in dizains of ten and eight syllables alternately, a Dialogue
of two Lovers, an Eclogue to the King; _L'Enfer_, a vigorous and
picturesque description of his imprisonment in the Châtelet, and some
poems bearing a strong Huguenot impression. Then come sixty-five
epistles written in couplets for the most part decasyllabic. These
include the celebrated _Coq-à-l'Âne_, a sort of nonsense-verse, with a
satirical tendency, which derives from the mediaeval _fatrasie_, and was
very popular and much imitated. Another mediaeval restoration of
Marot's, also very popular and also much imitated, was the _blason_, a
description, in octosyllables. Twenty-six elegies likewise adopt the
couplet, and show, as do the epistles, remarkable power over that form.
Fifteen ballades, twenty-two songs in various metres, eighty-two
rondeaux, and forty-two songs for music, contain much of Marot's most
beautiful work. His easy graceful style escaped the chief danger of
these artificial forms, the danger of stiffness and monotony; while he
was able to get out of them as much pathos and melody as any other
French poet, except Charles d'Orléans and Villon. Numerous _étrennes_
recall the _Xenia_ of Martial, and funeral poems of various lengths and
styles follow. Then we have nearly three hundred epigrams, many of them
excellent in point and elegance, a certain number of translations, the
Psalms, fifty in number, certain prayers, and two versified renderings
of Erasmus' _Colloquies_.

It will be seen from this enumeration that the majority of Marot's work
is what is now called occasional. No single work of his of a greater
length than a few hundred lines exists; and, after his first attempts in
the allegorical kind, almost all his works were either addressed to
particular persons, or based upon some event in his life. Marot was
immensely popular in his lifetime; and though after his death a
formidable rival arose in Ronsard, the elder poet's fame was sustained
by eager disciples. With the discredit of the Pléiade, in consequence of
Malherbe's criticisms, Marot's popularity returned in full measure, and
for two centuries he was the one French poet before the classical period
who was actually read and admired with genuine admiration by others
besides professed students of antiquity. Since the great revival of the
taste for older literature, which preceded and accompanied the Romantic
movement, Marot has scarcely held this pride of place. The Pléiade on
the one hand, the purely mediaeval writers on the other, have pushed him
from his stool. But sane criticism, which declines to depreciate one
thing because it appreciates another, will always have hearty admiration
for his urbanity, his genuine wit, his graceful turn of words; and his
flashes of pathos and poetry.

It is, as has been said, one of the commonplaces of the subject to speak
of Marot as the father of modern French poetry; the phrase is, like all
such phrases, inaccurate, but, like most such phrases, it contains a
certain amount of truth. To the characteristics of the lighter French
poetry, from La Fontaine to Béranger, which has always been more popular
both at home and abroad than the more ambitious and serious efforts of
French poets, Marot does in some sort stand in a parental relation. He
retained the sprightliness and sly fun of the Fabliau-writers, while he
softened their crudity of expression, he exchanged clumsiness and
horse-play for the play of wit, and he emphasised fully in the language
the two characteristics which have never failed to distinguish it since,
elegance and urbanity. His style is somewhat pedestrian, though on
occasion he can write with exquisite tenderness, and with the most
delicate suggestiveness of expression. But as a rule he does not go
deep; ease and grace, not passion or lofty flights, are his strong
points. Representing, as he did, the reaction from the stiff forms and
clumsily classical language of the _rhétoriqueurs_, it was not likely
that he should exhibit the tendency of his own age to classical culture
and imitation very strongly. He and his school were thus regarded by
their immediate successors of the Pléiade as rustic and uncouth singers,
for the most part very unjustly. But still Marot's work was of less
general and far-reaching importance than that of Ronsard. He brought out
the best aspect of the older French literature, and cleared away some
disfiguring encumbrances from it, but he imported nothing new. It would
hardly be unjust to say that, given the difference of a century in point
of ordinary progress, Charles d'Orléans is Marot's equal in elegance and
grace, and his superior in sentiment, while Marot is not comparable to
Villon in passion or in humour. His limitation, and at the same time his
great merit, was that he was a typical Frenchman. A famous epigram,
applied to another person two centuries later, might be applied with
very little difficulty or alteration to Marot. He had more than anybody
else of his time the literary characteristics which the ordinary
literary Frenchman has. We constantly meet in the history of literature
this contrast between the men who are simply shining examples of the
ordinary type, and men who cross and blend that type with new
characters and excellences. Unquestionably the latter are the greater,
but the former cannot on any equitable scheme miss their reward. It must
be added that the positive merit of much of Marot's work is great,
though, as a rule, his longer pieces are very inferior to his shorter.
Many of the epigrams are admirable; the Psalms, which have been unjustly
depreciated of late years by French critics, have a sober and solemn
music, which is almost peculiar to the French devotional poetry of that
age; the satirical ballade of _Frère Lubin_ is among the very best
things of its kind; while as much may be said of the rondeaux 'Dedans
Paris' in the lighter style, and 'En la Baisant' in the graver. Perhaps
the famous line--

    Un doux nenny avec un doux sourire,

supposed to have been addressed to the Queen of Navarre, expresses
Marot's poetical powers as well as anything else, showing as it does
grace of language, tender and elegant sentiment, and suppleness, ease,
and fluency of style.

[Sidenote: The School of Marot.]

Marot formed a very considerable school, some of whom directly imitated
his mannerisms, and composed _blasons_[171] and _Coq-à-l'Âne_ in
emulation of their master and of each other, while others contented
themselves with displaying the same general characteristics, and setting
the same poetical ideals before them. Among the idlest, but busiest
literary quarrels of the century, a century fertile in such things, was
that between Marot and a certain insignificant person named François
Sagon, a belated _rhétoriqueur_, who found some other rhymers of the
same kind to support him. One of Marot's best things, an answer of which
his servant, Fripelipes, is supposed to be the spokesman, came of the
quarrel; but of the other contributions, not merely of the principals,
but of their followers, the _Marotiques_ and _Sagontiques_, nothing
survives in general memory, or deserves to survive. Of Marot's
disciples, one, Mellin de Saint Gelais, deserves separate mention, the
others may be despatched in passing. Victor Brodeau, who, like his
master, held places in the courts both of Marguerite and her brother,
wrote not merely a devotional work, _Les Louanges de Jésus Christ notre
Seigneur_, which fairly illustrates the devotional side of the Navarrese
literary coterie, but also epigrams and rondeaux of no small merit.
Étienne Dolet, better known both as a scholar and translator, and as the
publisher of Marot and (surreptitiously) of Rabelais, composed towards
the end of his life poems in French, the principal of which was taken in
title and idea from Marot's _Enfer_, and which, though very unequal,
have passages of some poetical power. Marguerite herself has left a
considerable collection of poems of the most diverse kind and merit, the
title of which, _Marguerites de la Marguerite des Princesses_[172], is
perhaps not the worst thing about them. Farces, mysteries, religious
poems, such as _Le Triomphe de l'Agneau_, and _Le Miroir de l'Âme
Pécheresse_, with purely secular pieces on divers subjects, make up
these curious volumes. Not a few of the poems display the same nobility
of tone and stately sonorousness of verse, which has been and will be
noticed as a characteristic of the serious poetry of the age, and which
reached its climax in Du Bartas, D'Aubigné, and the choruses of Garnier
and Montchrestien. Bonaventure des Périers, an admirable prose writer,
was a poet, though not a very strong one. François Habert, 'Le Banni de
Liesse,' must not be confounded with Philippe Habert, author of a
remarkable _Temple de la Mort_ in the next century. Gilles Corrozet,
author of fables in verse, who, like many other literary men of the
time, was a printer and publisher as well, Jacques Gohorry, a pleasant
song writer, Gilles d'Aubigny, Jacques Pelletier, Étienne Forcadel,
deserve at least to be named. Of more importance were Hugues Salel,
Charles Fontaine, Antoine Héroet, Maurice Scève. All these were members
of the Lyonnese literary coterie, and in connection with this Louise
Labé also comes in. Salel, famous as the first French translator of the
Iliad, or rather of Books I-XII thereof, distinguished himself as a
writer of _blasons_ in imitation of Marot, as well as by composing many
small poems of the occasional kind. Charles Fontaine exhibited the fancy
of the time for conceits in the entitling of books by denominating his
poems _Ruisseaux de la Fontaine_, and was one of the chief champions on
Marot's side in the quarrel with Sagon, while he afterwards defended the
_style Marotique_ against Du Bellay's announcement of the programme of
the Pléiade. But perhaps he would hardly deserve much remembrance, save
for a charming little poem to his new-born son, which M. Asselineau has
made accessible to everybody in Crepet's _Poètes Français_[173]. He also
figures in a literary tournament very characteristic of the age. La
Borderie, another disciple of Marot, had written a poem entitled _L'Amye
de Cour_, which defended libertinism, or at least worldly-mindedness in
love, in reply to the _Parfaite Amye_ of Antoine Héroet, which exhibits
very well a certain aspect of the half-amorous, half-mystical sentiment
of the day. Fontaine rejoined in a _Contr'Amye de Cour_. Maurice Scève
is also a typical personage. He was, it may be said, the head of the
Lyonnese school, and was esteemed all over France. He was excepted by
the irreverent champions of the Pléiade from the general ridicule which
they poured on their predecessors, and was surrounded by a special body
of feminine devotees and followers, including his kinswomen Claudine and
Sibylle Scève, Jeanne Gaillarde, and above all Louise Labé. Scève's
poetical work is strongly tinged with classical affectation and Platonic
mysticism; and his chief poem, _De l'Objet de la plus haute Vertu_,
consists of some four hundred and fifty dizains written in what in
England and later has been, not very happily, called a metaphysical
style. Last of all comes the just-mentioned Louise Labé, 'La belle
Cordière,' one of the chief ornaments of Lyons, and the most important
French poetess of the sixteenth century. Louise was younger, and wrote
later than most of the authors just mentioned, and in some respects she
belongs to the school of Ronsard, like her supposed lover, Olivier de
Magny. But the Lyons school was essentially _Marotique_, and much of the
style of the elder master is observable in the writings of Louise[174].
She has left a prose _Dialogue d'Amour et de Folie_, three elegies, and
a certain number of sonnets. Her poems are perhaps the most genuinely
passionate of the time and country, and many of the sonnets are
extremely beautiful. The language is on the whole simple and elegant,
without the over-classicism of the Pléiade, or the obscurity of her
master Scève. Strangely enough the poems of this young Lyonnese lady
have in many places a singular approach to the ring of Shakespeare's
sonnets and minor works, and that not merely by virtue of the general
resemblance common to all the love poetry of the age, but in some very
definite traits. Her surname of 'La belle Cordière' came from her
marriage with a rich merchant, Ennemond Perrin by name, who was by trade
a ropemaker. Her poems have had their full share of the advantages of
reprints, which have of late years fallen to the lot of
sixteenth-century authors in France.

[Sidenote: Mellin de St. Gelais.]

Mellin de Saint Gelais[175], the last to be mentioned but the most
important of the school of Marot, has been very variously judged. The
mere fact that he was probably the introducer of the sonnet into France
(the counter claim of Pontus de Tyard seems to be unfounded) would
suffice to give him a considerable position in the history of letters.
But Mellin's claims by no means rest upon this achievement. He was a man
of higher position than most of the other poets of the time, being the
reputed son of Octavien de Saint Gelais, and himself enjoying a good
deal of royal favour. In his old age, as the representative of the
school of Marot, he had to bear the brunt of the Pléiade onslaught, and
knew how to defend himself, so that a truce was made. He was born in
1487, and died in 1558. His name is also spelt Merlin, and even Melusin,
the Saint Gelais boasting descent from the Lusignans, and thus from the
famous fairy heroine Mélusine. In his youth he spent a good deal of time
in Italy, at the Universities of Bologna and Padua. On returning to
France, he was at once received into favour at court, and having taken
orders, obtained various benefices and appointments which assured his
fortune. It is remarkable that though he violently opposed Ronsard's
rising favour at court, both the Prince of Poets and Du Bellay
completely forgave him, and pay him very considerable compliments, the
latter praising his 'vers emmiellés,' the former speaking, even after
his death, of his proficiency in the combined arts of music and poetry.
Saint Gelais was a good musician, and an affecting story is told of his
swan-song, for which, as for other anecdotes, there is no space here.
His work, though not inconsiderable in volume, is, even more than that
of Marot and other poets of the time and school, composed for the most
part of very short pieces, epigrams, rondeaux, dizains, huitains, etc.
These pieces display more merit than most recent critics have been
disposed to allow to them. The style is fluent and graceful, free from
puns and other faults of taste common at the time. The epigrams are
frequently pointed, and well expressed, and the complimentary verse is
often skilful and well turned. Mellin de Saint Gelais is certainly not a
poet of the highest order, but as a court singer and a skilful master of
language he deserves a place among his earlier contemporaries only
second to that of Marot.

[Sidenote: Miscellaneous Verse. Anciennes Poésies Françaises.]

Something of the same sort may be said of all the writers in verse of
the first half of the century. Their importance is chiefly relative. Few
of their works are conceived or executed on a scale sufficient to
entitle them to the rank of great poets, and, saving always Marot, the
excellence even of the trifling compositions to which they confined
themselves is very unequal and intermittent. But all are evidences of a
general diffusion of the literary spirit among the people of France, and
most of them in their way, and according to their powers, helped in
perfecting the character of French as a literary instrument. The advance
which the language experienced in this respect is perhaps nowhere better
shown than in the miscellaneous and popular poetry of the time, a vast
collection of which has been made accessible by the reprinting of rare
or unique printed originals in the thirteen volumes of MM. de Montaiglon
and de Rothschild's _Anciennes Poésies Françaises_, published in the
_Bibliothèque Elzévirienne_[176]. This flying literature, as it is well
called in French, lacks in most cases the freshness and spontaneity of
mediaeval folk-song. But it has in exchange gained in point of subject a
wide extension of range, and in point of form a considerable advance in
elegance of language, absence of commonplace, and perfection of
literary form and style. The stiffness which characterises much
mediaeval and almost all fifteenth-century work has disappeared in great
measure. The writers speak directly and to the point, and find no
difficulty in so using their mother tongue as to express their
intentions. The tools in short are more effective and more completely
under the control of the worker. A certain triviality is indeed
noticeable, and the tendency of the middle ages to perpetuate favourite
forms and models is by no means got rid of. But much that was useless
has been discarded, and of what is left a defter and more distinctly
literary use is made. Had French remained as Marot left it, it would
indeed have been unequal to the expression of the noblest thoughts, the
gravest subjects, to the treatment and exposition of intricate and
complicated problems of life and mind. But in his hands it attained
perhaps the perfection of usefulness as an exponent of the pure _esprit
gaulois_, to use a phrase which has been tediously abused by French
writers, but which is expressive of a real fact in French history and
French literature. It had been suppled and pointed: it remained for it
to be weighted, strengthened, and enriched. This was not the appointed
task of Marot and his contemporaries, but of the men who came after
them. But what they themselves had to do they did, and did it well. To
this day the lighter verse of France is more an echo of Clément Marot
than of any other man who lived before the seventeenth century, and,
with the exception of his greater follower, La Fontaine, of any man who
came after him at any time[177].


[165] _De_ Belges, though the less usual, is the more accurate form. We
are at length promised a complete edition of him in the admirable series
of the Belgian Academy, one of the best in appearance and editing, and
by far the cheapest of all such series. He was born in 1475, held posts
in the household of the Governors of the Netherlands, was
historiographer to Louis XII., and died either in 1524 or in 1548.

[166] See _Poètes Français_, i. 532. It is perhaps well to say that M.
C. d'Héricault, though a very agreeable as well as a very learned
writer, is particularly open to the charge that his geese are swans.

[167] Ed. C. d'Héricault. Paris, 1855.

[168] See _Poètes Français_, vol. i. _ad fin._, for the poets mentioned
in this paragraph and others of their kind.

[169] He was in his old age conspicuous among the enemies of Étienne
Dolet. See _Étienne Dolet_, by R. C. Christie. London, 1880.

[170] Ed Jannet et C. d'Héricault. 4 vols. Paris, 2nd ed. 1873. M.
d'Héricault has prefixed a much larger study of Marot than is to be
found here to his edition of the 'beauties' of the poet, published by
Messrs. Garnier. The late M. Guiffrey published two volumes of a costly
and splendid edition, which his death interrupted.

[171] The _blason_ (description) was a child of the mediaeval _dit_.
Marot's examples, _Le beau Tétin_ and _Le laid Tétin_, were copied _ad
infinitum_. The first is panegyric, the second abuse.

[172] Ed. Frank. 4 vols. Paris, 1873-4.

[173] i. 651.

[174] Ed. Tross. Paris, 1871.

[175] Ed. Blanchemain, 3 vols. Paris, 1873.

[176] This great collection, which awaits its completion of glossary,
etc., was published between 1855 and 1878, and is invaluable to any one
desiring to appreciate the general characteristics of the poetical
literature of the time.

[177] Much help has been received in the writing of this chapter, and
indeed of this book, from the excellent work of MM. Hatzfeld and
Darmesteter, _Le Seizième Siècle en France_ (Paris, 1878), one of the
best histories extant in a small compass of a brief but important period
of literature. We may hope for a still more elaborate study of the same
subject in English from Mr. Arthur Tilley, of King's College, Cambridge.
An introductory volume to this study appeared in 1885.



[Sidenote: Fiction at the beginning of the Sixteenth Century.]

At the beginning of the sixteenth century prose fiction in France was
represented by a considerable mass of literature divided sharply into
two separate classes of very different nature and value. On the one hand
the prose versions of the Chansons de Gestes and the romances, Arthurian
and adventurous, which had succeeded the last and most extensive verse
rehandlings of these works in the fourteenth century, made up a
considerable body of work, rarely possessing much literary merit, and
characterised by all the faults of monotony, repetition, and absence of
truthful character-drawing which distinguish late mediaeval work. On the
other hand, there was a smaller body of short prose tales[178] sometimes
serious in character and of not inconsiderable antiquity, more
frequently comic and satirical, and corresponding in prose to the
Fabliaux in verse. It has been pointed out that in the hands, real or
supposed, of Antoine de la Salle this latter kind of work had attained a
high standard of perfection. But it was as yet extremely limited in
style, scope, and subject. Valour, courtesy, and love made up the list
of subjects of the serious work, and the stock materials for satire,
women, marriage, priests, etc., that of the comic. Although we have some
lively presentment of the actual manners of the time in Antoine de la
Salle, it is accidental only, and of its thoughts on any but the stock
subjects we have nothing. There was thus room for a vast improvement,
or rather for a complete revolution, in this particular class of work,
and this revolution was at a comparatively early period of the new
century effected by the greatest man and the greatest book of the French

[Sidenote: Rabelais.]

François Rabelais[179] was born at Chinon about 1495 (the alternative
date of 1483 which used to be given is improbable if not impossible),
and at an early age was destined to the cloister. He not only became a
full monk, but also took priest's orders. Before he was thirty he
acquired the reputation of a good classical scholar, and this seems to
have brought him into trouble with his brethren the Cordeliers or
Franciscans, who were at this time among the least cultivated of the
monastic orders. With the consent of the Pope he migrated to a
Benedictine convent, and became canon at Maillezais. This migration,
however, did not satisfy him, and before long he quitted his new convent
without permission and took to the life of a wandering scholar. The
tolerance of the first period of the Renaissance however still existed
in France, and he suffered no inconvenience from this breach of rule.
After studying medicine and natural science under the protection of
Geoffrey d'Estissac, Bishop of Maillezais, he went to Montpellier to
continue these studies, and in the early years of the fourth decade of
the century practised regularly at Lyons. He was attached to the suite
of Cardinal du Bellay in two embassies to Rome, returned to Montpellier,
took his doctor's degree, and again practised in several cities of the
South. Towards 1539 Du Bellay again established him in a convent,
probably as a safeguard against the persecution which was then
threatening. But the conventual life as then practised was too repugnant
to Rabelais to be long endured, and he once more set out on his travels,
this time in Savoy and Italy, the personal protection of the king
guaranteeing him from danger. He then returned to France, taking however
the precaution to soften some expressions in his books. At the death of
Francis he retired first to Metz, and then to Rome, still with Du
Bellay. The Cardinal de Chatillon, soon after gave him the living of
Meudon, which he held with another in Maine for a year or two,
resigning them both in 1551, and dying in 1553. Such at least are the
most probable and best ascertained dates and events in a life which has
been overlaid with a good deal of fiction, and many of the facts of
which are decidedly obscure. Rabelais did not very early become an
author, and his first works were of a purely erudite kind. During his
stay at Lyons he seems to have done a good deal of work for the
printers, as editor and reader, especially in reference to medical
works, such as Galen and Hippocrates. He edited too, and perhaps in part
re-wrote, a prose romance, _Les Grandes et Inestimables Chroniques du
Grant et Énorme Géant Gargantua_. This work, the author of which is
unknown, and no earlier copies of which exist, gave him no doubt at
least the idea of his own famous book. The next year (1532) followed the
first instalment of this--_Pantagruel Roi des Dipsodes Restitué en Son
naturel avec ses Faicts et Proueses Espouvantables_. Three years
afterwards came _Gargantua_ proper, the first book of the entire work as
we now have it. Eleven years however passed before the work was
continued, the second book of _Pantagruel_ not being published till
1546, and the third six years later, just before the author's death, in
1552. The fourth or last book did not appear as a whole until 1564,
though the first sixteen chapters had been given to the world two years
before. This fourth book, the fifth of the entire work, has, from the
length of time which elapsed before its publication and from certain
variations which exist in the MS. and the first printed editions, been
suspected of spuriousness. Such a question cannot be debated here at
length. But there is no external testimony of sufficient value to
discredit Rabelais' authorship, while the internal testimony in its
favour is overwhelming[180]. It may be said, without hesitation, that
not a single writer capable of having written it, save Rabelais himself,
is known to literary history at the time. It has been supposed, with a
good deal of probability, that the book was left in the rough. The
considerable periods which, as has been mentioned, intervened between
the publications of the other books seem to show that the author
indulged a good deal in revision; and, as the third book was only
published just before his death, he could have had little time for this
in the case of the fourth. This would account for a certain appearance
of greater boldness and directness in the satire as well as for
occasional various readings. In genius both of thought and expression
this book is perhaps superior to any other; and, if it were decided that
Rabelais did not write it, much of what are now considered the
Rabelaisian characteristics must be transferred to an entirely unknown
writer who has left not the smallest vestige of himself or his genius.
It is not possible to give here a detailed abstract of _Gargantua_ and
_Pantagruel_: indeed, from the studied desultoriness of the work, any
such abstract must of necessity be nearly as long as the book
itself[181]. It is sufficient to say that both Gargantua and his son
Pantagruel are the heroes of adventures, designedly exaggerated and
burlesqued from those common in the romances of chivalry. The chief
events of the earlier romance are, first, the war between Grandgousier,
Gargantua's father, the pattern of easy-going royalty, and Picrochole,
king of Lerne, the ideal of an arbitrary despot intent only on conquest;
and, secondly, the founding of the Abbey of Thelema, a fanciful
institution, in which Rabelais propounds as first principles everything
that is most opposed to the forced abstinence, the real self-indulgence,
the idleness and the ignorance of the debased monastic communities he
knew so well and hated so much. Pantagruel is Gargantua's son, and, like
him, a giant, but the extravagances derived from his gianthood are not
kept up in the second part as they are in the first. A very important
personage in _Pantagruel_ is Panurge, a singular companion, whom
Pantagruel picks up at Paris, and who is perhaps the greatest single
creation of Rabelais. Some ideas may have been taken for him from the
Cingar of Merlinus Coccaius, or Folengo, a Macaronic Italian poet[182],
but on the whole he is original, and is hardly comparable to any one
else in literature except Falstaff. The main idea of Panurge is the
absence of morality in the wide Aristotelian sense with the presence of
almost all other good qualities. After a time, in which Pantagruel and
his companions (among whom, as in the former romance, Friar John is the
embodiment of hearty and healthy animalism, as Panurge is of a somewhat
diseased intellectual refinement) are engaged in wars of the old romance
kind, a whim of Panurge determines the conclusion of the story. He
desires to get married; and an entire book is occupied by the various
devices to which he resorts in order to determine whether it is wise or
not for him to do so. At last it is decided that a voyage must be made
to the oracle of the Dive Bouteille. The last two books are occupied
with this voyage, in which many strange countries are visited, and at
last, the oracle being reached, the word _Trinq_ is vouchsafed, not
only, it would seem, to solve Panurge's doubts, but also as a general
answer to the riddle of the painful earth.

Besides his great work, Rabelais was the author of a few extant letters,
and probably of a good many that are not extant, of a little burlesque
almanack called the _Pantagrueline Prognostication_, which is full of
his peculiar humour, of a short work entitled _Sciomachie_, describing a
festival at Rome, and of a few poems of no great merit. In _Gargantua_
and _Pantagruel_, however, his whole literary interest and character are
concentrated. Few books have been the subject of greater controversy as
to their meaning and general intention. The author, as if on purpose to
baffle investigation, mixes up real persons mentioned by their real
names, real persons mentioned in transparent allegory, and entirely
fictitious characters, in the most inextricable way. Occasionally, as in
his chapters on education, he is perfectly serious, and allows no touch
of humour or satire to escape him. Elsewhere he indulges in the wildest
buffoonery. Two of the most notable characteristics of Rabelais are,
first, his extraordinary predilection for heaping up piles of synonymous
words, and huge lists of things; secondly, his habit of indulging in the
coarsest allusions and descriptions. Both of these were to some extent
mere exaggerations of his mediaeval models, but both show the peculiar
characteristics of their author. The book as a whole has received the
most various explanations as well as the most various appreciations. It
has been regarded as in the main a political and personal satire, in
every incident and character of which some reference must be sought to
actual personages and events of the time; as an elaborate pamphlet
against the Roman Catholic Church; as a defence of mere epicurean
materialism, and even an attack on Christianity itself; as a huge piece
of mischief intended to delude readers into the belief that something
serious is meant, when in reality nothing of the kind is intended. Even
more fantastic explanations than these have been attempted; such, for
instance, as the idea that the voyage of Pantagruel is an allegorical
account of the processes employed in the manufacture of wine. The true
explanation, as far as there is any, of the book seems, however, to be
not very difficult to make out, provided that the interpreter does not
endeavour to force a meaning where there very probably is none. The form
of it was pretty well prescribed by the old romances of adventure, and
must be taken as given to Rabelais, not as invented by him for a special
purpose; a war, a quest, these are the subjects of every story in verse
and prose for five centuries, and Rabelais followed the stream. But when
he had thus got his main theme settled, he gave the widest licence of
comment, allusion, digression, and adaptation to his own fancy and his
own intellect. Both of these were typical, and, except for a certain
deficiency in the poetical element, fully typical of the time. Rabelais
was a very learned man, a man of the world, a man of pleasure, a man of
obvious interest in political and ecclesiastical problems. He was
animated by that lively appetite for enjoyment, business, study, all the
occupations of life, which characterised the Renaissance in its earlier
stages, in all countries and especially in France. Nor had science of
any kind yet been divided and subdivided so that each man could only
aspire to handle certain portions of it. Accordingly, Rabelais is
prodigal of learning in season and out of season. But independently of
all this, he had an immense humour, and this pervades the whole book,
turning the preposterous adventures into satirical allegories or half
allegories, irradiating the somewhat miscellaneous erudition with
lambent light, and making the whole alive and fresh to this day. The
extreme coarseness of language, which makes Rabelais difficult to read
now-a-days, seems to have arisen from a variety of causes. The essence
of his book was exaggeration, and he exaggerated in this as in other
matters. His keen appetite for the ludicrous, and a kind of
shamelessness which may have been partly due to individual peculiarity,
but had not a little also to do with his education and studies, inclined
him to make free with a department of thought where ludicrous ideas are,
as it has been said, to be had for the picking up by those whom shame
does not trouble at the expense of those whom it does. But besides all
this, there was in Rabelais a knowledge of human nature, and a faculty
of expressing that knowledge in literary form, in which he is inferior
to Shakespeare alone. Caricatured as his types purposely are, they are
all easily reducible to natural dimensions and properties; while
occasionally, though all too rarely, the author drops his mask and
speaks gravely, seriously, and then always wisely. These latter passages
are, it may be added, unsurpassed in mere prose style for many long
years after the author's death.

Altogether, independently of the intrinsic interest of Rabelais' work,
we go to him as we can go to only some score or half score of the
greatest writers of the world, for a complete reflection of the
sentiment and character of his time. As with all great writers, what he
shows is in great part characteristic of humanity at all times and in
all places, but, as also with all great writers except Shakespeare, more
of it is local and temporary merely. This local and temporary element
gives him his great historical importance. Rabelais is the literary
exponent of the earlier Renaissance, with its appetite for the good
things of the world as yet unblunted. Yet even in him there is a
foretaste of satiety, and the Oracle of the Bottle has something, for
all its joyousness, of the conclusion of the Preacher.

The popularity of Rabelais was immense, and of itself sufficed to
protect him against the enmity which his hardly veiled attacks on
monachism, and on other fungoid growths of the Church, could not have
failed to attract. In such a case imitation was certain, and, long
before the genuine series of the Pantagrueline Chronicles was
completed, spurious supplements and continuations appeared, all of them
without exception worthless. A more legitimate imitation coloured the
work of many of the fiction writers of the remaining part of the
century, though the tradition of short story writing, on the model of
the Fabliaux and of the Italian tales borrowed from them, continued and
was only indirectly affected by Rabelais. In this latter class one
mediocre writer and two of the greatest talent--of talent amounting
almost to genius--have to be noticed. In 1535, Nicholas of Troyes, a
saddler by trade, produced a book entitled _Grand Parangon de Nouvelles
Nouvelles_, in which he followed rather, as his title indicates, the
_Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles_ than any other model. His sources seem to
have been the _Decameron_ and the _Gesta Romanorum_ principally, though
some of his tales are original. Very different books are the _Contes_ of
Marguerite de Navarre, usually termed the 'Heptameron,' and the _Contes
et Joyeux Devis_ of her servant Bonaventure des Périers. Neither of
these books was published till a considerable period after the death,
not merely of Rabelais, but of their authors.

[Sidenote: Bonaventure des Périers.]

There are few persons of the time of whom less is known than of
Bonaventure des Périers[183], and, by no means in consequence merely of
this mystery, there are few more interesting. He must have been born
somewhere about the beginning of the sixteenth century, and his friend
Dolet calls him _Aeduum poetam_, which would seem to fix his birth
somewhere in the neighbourhood at least of Autun. He was undoubtedly one
of the literary courtiers of Marguerite d'Angoulême. Finally, it seems
that in the persecution which, during the later years of Francis I.'s
reign, came upon the Protestants and freethinkers, and which the
influence of Marguerite was powerless to prevent, he committed suicide
to escape the clutches of the law. Henri Estienne, however, attributes
the act to insanity or delirium. However this may be, there is no doubt
that Des Périers was a remarkable example of a humanist. He was
certainly a good scholar, and he was also a decided freethinker. He has
left poems of some merit, but not great perhaps, some translations and
minor prose pieces, but certainly two works of the highest interest, the
_Cymbalum Mundi_ (1537) and the _Nouvelles Récréations et Joyeux Devis_
(1558). The _Cymbalum Mundi_ betrays the influence of Lucian, which was
also very strong on Rabelais. It is a work in dialogue, satirising the
superstitions of antiquity with a hardly dubious reference to the
religious beliefs of Des Périers' own day. The _Nouvelles Récréations et
Joyeux Devis_ are compact of less perilous stuff, while they exhibit
equal and perhaps greater literary skill. They consist of a hundred and
twenty-nine short tales, similar in general character to those of the
_Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles_ and other collections. Although, however, a
great licence of subject is still allowed, the language is far less
coarse than in the work of Antoine de la Salle, while the literary
merits of the style are very much greater. Des Périers was beyond all
doubt a great master of half-serious and half-joyous French prose. Nor
is his matter much less remarkable than his style. Like Rabelais, but
with the difference that his was a more poetical temperament than that
of his greater contemporary, he has sudden accesses of seriousness,
almost of sentiment. At these times the spirit of the French
Renaissance, in its more cultivated and refined representatives, comes
out in him very strongly. This spirit may be defined as a kind of
cultivated sensuality, ardently enamoured of the beautiful in the world
of sense, while fully devoted to intellectual truth, and at the same
time always conscious of the nothingness of things, the instant pressure
of death, the treacherousness of mortal delights. The rare sentences in
which Des Périers gives vent to the expression of this mental attitude
are for the most part admirably written, while as a teller of tales,
either comic or romantic, he has few equals and fewer superiors.

[Sidenote: The Heptameron.]

The same spirit which has just been described found even fuller
expression, with greater advantages of scale and setting, in the
_Heptameron_[184] of Marguerite of Navarre. The exact authorship of this
celebrated book is something of a literary puzzle. Marguerite was a
prolific author, if all the works which were published under her name be
unhesitatingly ascribed[185] to her. Besides the poems printed under the
pretty title of _Les Marguerites de la Marguerite_, she produced many
other works, as well as the _Heptameron_ which was not given to the
world until after her death (1558). The House of Valois was by no means
destitute of literary talent. But that which seems most likely to be the
Queen's genuine work hardly corresponds with the remarkable power shown
in the _Heptameron_. On the other hand, Marguerite for years maintained
a literary court, in which all the most celebrated men of the time,
notably Marot and Bonaventure des Périers, held places. If it were
allowable to decide literary questions simply by considerations of
probability, there could be little hesitation in assigning the entire
_Heptameron_ to Des Périers himself, and then its unfinished condition
would be intelligible enough. The general opinion of critics, however,
is that it was probably the result of the joint work of the Queen, of
Des Périers, and of a good many other men, and probably some women, of
letters. The idea and plan of the work are avowedly borrowed from
Boccaccio, but the thing is worked out with so much originality that it
becomes nothing so little as an imitation. A company of ladies and
gentlemen returning from Cauterets are detained by bad weather in an
out-of-the-way corner of the Pyrenees, and beguile the time by telling
stories. The interludes, however, in which the tale-tellers are brought
on the stage in person, are more circumstantial than those of the
Decameron, and the individual characters are much more fully worked out.
Indeed, the mere setting of the book, independently of its seventy-two
stories (for the eighth day is begun), makes a very interesting tale,
exhibiting not merely those characteristics of the time and its society
which have been noticed in connection with the _Contes et Joyeux Devis_,
but, in addition, a certain religiosity in which that time and society
were also by no means deficient, though it existed side by side with
freethinking of a daring kind and with unbridled licentiousness. The
head of the party, Dame Oisille, is the chief representative of this
religious spirit, though all the party are more or less penetrated by
it. The subjects of the tales do not differ much from those of
Boccaccio, though they are, as a rule, occupied with a higher class of
society, and of necessity display a more polished condition of manners.
They are much longer than the anecdotes of the _Contes et Joyeux Devis_,
and generally, though not always, deal with something like a connected
story instead of with mere isolated traits or apophthegms. The best of
them are animated by the same spirit of refined voluptuousness which
animates so much of the writing and art of the time, and which may
indeed be said to be its chief feature. But this spirit has seldom been
presented in a light so attractive as that which it bears in the

[Sidenote: Noel du Fail.]

[Sidenote: G. Bouchet.]

[Sidenote: Cholières.]

The influence of Rabelais on the one hand, of the _Heptameron_ on the
other, is observable in almost all the work of the same kind which the
second half of the sixteenth century produced. The fantastic buffoonery
and the indiscriminate prodigality of learning, which were to the
outward eye the distinguishing characteristics of _Pantagruel_, found
however more imitators than the poetical sentiment of the _Heptameron_.
The earliest of the successors of Rabelais was Noel du Fail, a gentleman
and magistrate of Britanny, who, five years before the master's death,
produced two little books, _Propos Rustiques_[186] and _Baliverneries_,
which depict rural life and its incidents with a good deal of vividness
and colour. The imitation of Rabelais is very perceptible, and sometimes
a little irritating, but the work on the whole has merit, and abounds in
curious local traits. The _Propos Rustiques_, too, are interesting
because they underwent a singular travesty in the next century, and
appeared under a new and misleading title. Much later, near forty years
afterwards in fact, Du Fail produced the _Contes d'Eutrapel_[187], which
are rather critical and satirical dialogues than tales. There is a good
deal of dry humour in them. The provinciality to be noticed in Du Fail
was still a feature of French literature; and in this particular
department it long continued to be prominent, perhaps owing to the
example of Rabelais, who, wide as is his range, frequently takes
pleasure in mixing up petty local matters with his other materials.
Thus, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, Guillaume Bouchet (to
be carefully distinguished from Jean Bouchet, the poet of the early
sixteenth century) wrote a large collection of _Serées_[188] (Soirées),
containing gossip on a great variety of subjects, mingled with details
of Angevin manners; and Tabourot des Accords composed his _Escraignes
Dijonnaises_. A singular book, or rather two singular books[189], _Les
Matinées_ and _Les Après-Dinées_, were produced by a person, the
Seigneur de Cholières, of whom little else is known. Cholières is a bad
writer, and a commonplace if not stupid thinker; but he tells some
quaint stories, and his book shows us the deep hold which the example of
Rabelais had given to the practice of discussing grave subjects in a
light tone.

[Sidenote: Apologie pour Hérodote.]

[Sidenote: Moyen de Parvenir.]

There remain two books of sufficient importance to be treated
separately. The first of these is the _Apologie pour Hérodote_[190]
(1566) of the scholar Henri Estienne. In the guise of a serious defence
of Herodotus from the charges of untrustworthiness and invention
frequently brought against him Estienne indulges in an elaborate
indictment against his own and recent times, especially against the
Roman Catholic clergy. Much of his book is taken from Rabelais, or from
the _Heptameron_; much from the preachers of the fifteenth century. Its
literary merit has been a good deal exaggerated, and its extreme
desultoriness and absence of coherence make it tedious to read for any
length of time, but it is in a way amusing enough. Much later (1610) the
last--it may almost be said the first--echo of the genuine spirit of
Rabelais was sounded in the _Moyen de Parvenir_[191] of Béroalde de
Verville. This eccentric work is perhaps the most perfect example of a
_fatrasie_ in existence. In the guise of guests at a banquet the author
brings in many celebrated persons of the day and of antiquity, and
makes them talk from pillar to post in the strangest possible fashion.
The licence of language and anecdote which Rabelais had permitted
himself is equalled and exceeded; but many of the tales are told with
consummate art, and, in the midst of the ribaldry and buffoonery,
remarks of no small shrewdness are constantly dropped as if by accident.
There seems to have been at the time something not unlike a serious idea
that the book was made up from unpublished papers of Rabelais himself.
All external considerations make this in the highest degree unlikely,
and the resemblances are obviously those of imitation rather than of
identical authorship. But undoubtedly nothing else of the kind comes so
near to the excellences of _Gargantua_ and _Pantagruel_.


[178] Among these may be mentioned the charming story of _Jehan de
Paris_ (ed. Montaiglon, Paris, 1874), which M. de Montaiglon has clearly
proved to be of the end of the fifteenth century. It is a cross between
a Roman d'aventures and a nursery tale, telling how the King of France
as 'John of Paris' outwitted the King of England in the suit for the
hand of the Infanta of Spain.

[179] Ed. Jannet and Moland. 7 vols. (2nd ed.) Paris, 1873. Also ed.
Marty-Laveaux, vols. 1-4. Paris, 1870-81.

[180] The question has been again discussed since the text was written
by M. Paul Lacroix (Paris, 1881), whose facts and arguments fully bear
out the view taken here. The other side is taken, though not very
decidedly, in the fourth volume of M. Marty-Laveaux' edition. The two
contain a tolerably complete survey of the question.

[181] The best general commentary on Rabelais is that of M. J. Fleury. 2
vols. St. Petersburg, 1876-7.

[182] For an excellent account of Folengo, see Symonds' _Renaissance in
Italy_, vol. v. chap. 14.

[183] Ed. Lacour. 2 vols. Paris, 1866.

[184] Ed. Leroux de Lincy. 3 vols. Paris, 1855.

[185] She was born in 1492, and was thus two years older than her
brother Francis I. She married first the Duke d'Alençon, then Henri
d'Albert King of Navarre. Her private character has been most unjustly
attacked. She died in 1549. Marguerite is spoken of by four surnames; de
Valois from her family; d'Angoulême from her father's title; d'Alençon
from her first husband's; and de Navarre from that of her second. In
literature, to distinguish her from her great-niece, the first wife of
Henri IV., Marguerite d'Angoulême is the term most commonly used.

[186] Ed. La Borderie. Paris, 1878. The bibliography of this book is
very curious.

[187] Ed. Hippeau. 2 vols. Paris, 1875.

[188] Ed. Roybet. Paris. In course of publication.

[189] Ed. Tricotel. 2 vols. Paris, 1879.

[190] Ed. Ristelhuber. 2 vols. Paris, 1879.

[191] Ed. Jacob. Paris, 1868. It is possibly not Béroalde's.



[Sidenote: Character and Effects of the Pléiade Movement.]

Almost exactly at the middle of the sixteenth century a movement took
place in French literature which has no parallel in literary history,
except the similar movement which took place, also in France, three
centuries later. The movement and its chief promoters are indifferently
known in literature by the name of the _Pléiade_, a term applied by the
classical affectation of the time to the group of seven men[192],
Ronsard, Du Bellay, Belleau, Baïf, Daurat, Jodelle, and Pontus de Tyard,
who were most active in promoting it, and who banded themselves together
in a strict league or _coterie_ for the attainment of their purposes.
These purposes were the reduction of the French language and French
literary forms to a state more comparable, as they thought, to that of
the two great classical tongues. They had no intention (though such an
intention has been falsely attributed to them both at the time and
since) of defacing or destroying their mother-tongue. On the contrary,
they were animated by the sincerest and, for the most part, the most
intelligent love for it. But the intense admiration of the severe
beauties of classical literature, which was the dominant literary note
of the Renaissance, translated itself in their active minds into a
determination to make, if it were possible, French itself more able to
emulate the triumphs of Greek and of Latin. This desire, even if it had
borne no fruit, would have honourably distinguished the French
Renaissance from the Italian and German forms of the movement. In Italy
the humanists, for the most part, contented themselves with practice in
the Latin tongue, and in Germany they did so almost wholly. But no
sooner had the literature of antiquity taken root in France than it was
made to bear _novas frondes et non sua poma_ of vernacular literature.
There were some absurdities committed by the Pléiade no doubt, as there
always are in enthusiastic crusades of any kind: but it must never be
forgotten that they had a solid basis of philological truth to go upon.
French, after all, despite a strong Teutonic admixture, was a Latin
tongue, and recurrence to Latin, and to the still more majestic and
fertile language which had had so much to do in shaping the literary
Latin dialect, was natural and germane to its character. In point of
fact, the Pléiade made modern French--made it, we may say, twice over;
for not only did its original work revolutionise the language in a
manner so durable that the reaction of the next century could not wholly
undo it, but it was mainly study of the Pléiade that armed the great
masters of the Romantic movement, the men of 1830, in their revolt
against the cramping rules and impoverished vocabulary of the eighteenth
century. The effect of the change indeed was far too universal for it to
be possible for any Malherbe or any Boileau to overthrow it. The whole
literature of the nation, at a time when it was wonderfully abundant and
vigorous, 'Ronsardised' for nearly fifty years, and such practice at
such a time never fails to leave its mark. The actual details of the
movement cannot better be given than by going through the list of its
chief participators.

[Sidenote: Ronsard.]

[Sidenote: The Défense et Illustration de la Langue Française.]

Pierre de Ronsard[193], Prince of Poets[194], was born at La
Poissonnière, in the Vendômois, or, as it was then more often called,
the Gâtinais, on the banks of the river Loir, in 1524. He died in his
own country in the year 1585, acknowledged, not merely in France but out
of it, as the leader of living poets. His early life, however, was
rather that of a man of action than of a poet, and one of the most
studious of poets. His father was an old courtier and servant of
Francis I., whose companion in captivity he had been, and Ronsard
entered upon court life when he was a boy of ten years old. He visited
Scotland and England in the suite of French ambassadors, and remained
for some considerable time in Great Britain. He was also attached to
embassies in Flanders, Holland, and Germany. But before he was of age he
fell ill, and though he recovered, it was at the cost of permanent
deafness, which incapacitated him for the public service. He threw
himself on literature for a consolation, and under the direction of
Daurat, a scholar of renown, studied for years at the Collège Coqueret.
Here Du Bellay, Belleau, Baïf, were his fellow-students, and the four
with their master, with Étienne Jodelle, and with Pontus de Tyard,
afterwards bishop of Chalon, formed, as has been said, the Pléiade
according to the most orthodox computation. The idea conceived and
carried out in these studious years (by Ronsard himself and Du Bellay
beyond all doubt in the first place) was the reformation of French
language and French literature by study and imitation of the ancients.
In 1549 the manifesto of the society issued, in the shape of Du Bellay's
_Défense et Illustration de la Langue Française_, and in 1550 the first
practical illustration of the method was given by Ronsard's _Odes_. The
principles of the _Défense et Illustration_ may be thus summarised. The
author holds that the current forms of literature, dizains, rondeaus,
etc., are altogether too facile and easy, that the language used is too
pedestrian, the treatment wanting in gravity and art. He would have Odes
of the Horatian kind take the place of Chansons, the sonnet, _non moins
docte que plaisante invention Italienne_, of dizains and huitains,
regular tragedy and comedy of moralities and farces, regular satires of
Fatrasies and Coq-à-l'âne. He takes particular pains to demonstrate the
contrary proposition to Wordsworth's, and to prove that merely natural
and ordinary language is not sufficient for him who in poesy wishes to
produce work deserving of immortality. He ridicules the mediaeval
affectations and conceits of some of the writers of his time, who gave
themselves such names as 'Le Banni de Liesse,' 'Le Traverseur des Voies
Périlleuses,' etc. He speaks, indeed, not too respectfully of mediaeval
literature generally, and uses language which probably suggested Gabriel
Harvey's depreciatory remarks about the _Fairy Queen_ forty years later.
In much of this there is exaggeration, and in much more of it mistake.
By turning their backs on the middle ages--though indeed they were not
able to do it thoroughly--the Pléiade lost almost as much in subject and
spirit as they gained in language and formal excellence. The laudation
of the sonnet, while the ballade and chant royal, things of similar
nature and of hardly less capacity, are denounced as _épiceries_,
savours of a rather Philistine preference for mere novelty and foreign
fashions. But, as has been already pointed out, Du Bellay was right in
the main, and it must especially be insisted on that his aim was to
strengthen and reform, not to alter or misguide, the French language.
The peroration of the book in a highly rhetorical style speaks of the
writer and his readers as having 'échappé du milieu des Grecs et par les
escadrons Romains pour entrer jusqu'au sein de la tant désirée France.'
That is to say, the innovators are to carry off what spoils they can
from Greece and Rome, but it is to be for the enrichment and benefit of
the French tongue. Frenchmen are to write French, not Latin and Greek;
but they are to write it not merely in a conversational way, content as
Du Bellay says somewhere else, 'n'avoir dit rien qui vaille aux neuf
premiers vers, pourvu qu'au dixième il y ait le petit mot pour rire.'
They are to accustom themselves to long and weary studies, 'ear ce sont
les ailes dont les escripts des hommes volent au ciel,' to imitate good
authors, not merely in Greek and Latin, but in Italian, Spanish, or any
other tongue where they may be found. Such was the manifesto of the
Pléiade; and no one who has studied French literature and French
character, who knows the special tendency of the nation to drop from
time to time into a sterile self-admiration, and an easy confidence that
it is the all-sufficient wonder of the world, can doubt its wisdom.
Certainly, whatever may be thought of it in the abstract, it was
justified of its children. The first of these was, as has been said,
Ronsard's _Odes_, published in 1550. These he followed up, in 1552, by
_Les Amours de Cassandre_, in 1553 by a volume of _Hymnes_, as well as
by _Le Bocage Royal_, _Les Amours de Marie_, sonnets, etc., all of
which were, in 1560, republished in a collected edition of four
volumes. From the first Ronsard had been a very popular poet at court,
where, according to a well-known anecdote, Marguerite de Savoie, the
second of the Valois Marguerites, snatched his first volume from Mellin
de Saint Gelais, who was reading it in a designed tone of burlesque, and
reading it herself to her brother Henry II. and the court, obtained a
verdict at once for the young poet. The accession of Charles IX. brought
Ronsard still more into favour, and during the next ten years he
produced many courtly poems of the occasional kind, besides others to
suit his own pleasure. In 1572 the first part of his most ambitious, but
perhaps least successful, work appeared. This was the _Franciade_, a
dull epic. At the death of Charles, Ronsard retired to his native
province, where he had an abbacy, Croix-Val. Here all his poetical
powers returned, and in his last _Amours, Sonnets to Hélène_, and other
pieces, some of his very best work is to be found. The year before his
death he produced an edition of his works much altered, but by no means
invariably improved.

There are few poets to whose personal merits there is more unanimity of
trustworthy testimony than there is to those of Ronsard. From the time
of his betaking himself to literary work, he seems to have been wholly
given to study, and to the contemplation of natural beauty. Although
jealous of his own great reputation, and liable to be nettled when it
was imperilled, as it was by Du Bartas, he was as a rule singularly
placable in literary quarrels. The story of his quarrelling with
Rabelais is late, unsupported, and to all appearance fabulous; while, on
the other hand, the passages which have been supposed to reflect on the
Pléiade in the writings of Rabelais can, for chronological reasons, by
no possibility refer to Ronsard or his friends. Lastly, the poet appears
to have had no thought of writing for gain, and though, like all his
contemporaries, he did not scruple to solicit favours from the king, he
was in no way importunate or servile. But while his personal character,
as well as the extraordinary esteem in which he was held by all his
contemporaries, has never been seriously contested, critical estimates
of his literary work have strangely varied. To his own age he was the
'Prince of Poets.' His successor, Malherbe, behaved to him as certain
popes are reported to have behaved to their predecessors,
excommunicating him in the literary sense. Boileau, with his usual
ignorance of French literature before his own day, described his work in
lines which French schoolboys long learnt by heart, and which are as
false in fact as they are imbecile in criticism. Fénelon was almost the
only sincere partisan he had for two centuries. But when the Romantic
movement began Ronsard was for a while almost restored to the position
he held in his lifetime, and his works became a kind of Bible to the
disciples of Sainte-Beuve and the followers of Hugo. The strong
mediaeval revival which accompanied the movement was however
unfavourable to Ronsard, and he has again sunk, though not very low, in
the general estimation of French critics. The history is curious, and as
a literary phenomenon instructive. But it is not difficult for an
impartial judge to place Ronsard in his true position. His main defects
are two: he was too much a poet of malice prepense, and yet he wrote on
the whole too fluently. The mass of his work is great, and it is not
always, nor perhaps very often, animated by those unmistakable and
universal poetical touches which in the long run will alone suffice to
induce posterity to keep a writer on its shelf of great poets. Yet these
touches are by no means wanting in Ronsard. Many of his sonnets,
especially the famous and universally admired 'Quand vous serez bien
vieille,' not a few of his odes, especially the equally famous
'Mignonne, allons voir si la rose,' rank among those poems of which it
can only be said that they could not be better, and detached passages
innumerable deserve hardly lower praise. But it is when Ronsard is
viewed from the standpoint of a thoroughly instructed historical
criticism that his real greatness appears. It is when we look at the
poets that came before him and at those who came after him that we see
the immense benefit he conferred upon his successors, and upon the
language which those successors illustrated. The result of his classical
studies was little less than the introduction of an entirely new rhythm
into French poetry: let it be observed that a new rhythm, and not merely
new metre, is what is spoken of. Since the disuse of the
half-inarticulate but sweet rhythmical varieties of the mediaeval
pastourelles and romances a great monotony had come upon French poetry.
The fault of the artificial forms of the fourteenth, fifteenth, and
early sixteenth centuries, the _épiceries_ of Du Bellay's scornful
allusion, was that they induced their writers to concentrate their
attention on the arrangement of the rhymes and stanzas, to the neglect
of the individual line, the rhythm of which was but too frequently lame,
stiff, and prosaic in the extreme. With Marot and Saint Gelais the
introduction of less formal patterns, dizains, huitains, etc., had had
the additional drawback of making the individual verse even more prosaic
and pedestrian, though it may be somewhat less stiff. Now the line is,
after all, the unit of poetry, and all reform must start with it. It is
the great glory of Ronsard that his reform did so start. From his time
French poetry reads quite differently. Perhaps this was due to his study
of the Horatian quantity-metres, where every syllable has to give its
quota to the effect of the line as well as every line its quota to the
effect of the stanza. But whether it was this or something else, the
effect is indisputable. To this must be added a liberal, though in
Ronsard's own case not excessive, importation of new words from Greek
and Latin, a bold and striking mode of expression, the retention of many
picturesque old words which the senseless folly of the
seventeenth-century reformers banished, and, above all, a great
indulgence in diminutives, which give a most charming effect to the
lighter verse of Ronsard and his friends, and which also were cut off by
the indiscriminate and 'desperate hook' of Malherbe and Boileau. So
great were the formal changes and improvements thus introduced, that
French poetry takes a new colour from the age of Ronsard, a colour which
in its moments of health it has ever since displayed.

[Sidenote: Du Bellay.]

Next to Ronsard, and perhaps above him, if uniform excellence rather
than bulk and range of work is considered, ranks Joachim du Bellay[195].
He was a connection, though it does not seem quite clear what
connection, of the Cardinal du Bellay to whom Rabelais was so long
attached, and whose house included other illustrious members. Probably
he was a cousin of the cardinal and of his two brothers the memoir
writers. His youth was rendered troublesome by illness and law
difficulties, but at last he was able with Ronsard, whose junior he was
by a little, to give himself up to study under Daurat. His prose
manifesto has already been dealt with, and almost immediately afterwards
he in some sort anticipated Ronsard's poetical carrying out of his
principles by a volume of _Sonnets to Olive_, the anagram of a certain
Mademoiselle de Viole. The sonnet, however, was not such an absolute
novelty as the ode, having been introduced already by Mellin de Saint
Gelais. Shortly afterwards he went to Italy with the Cardinal du Bellay,
a proceeding which did not bring him good luck. The intriguing diplomacy
of the papal court displeased him, and he soon lost his cousin's favour.
A volume of sonnets entitled _Regrets_, full of vigour and poetry, dates
from this time. But Du Bellay, deprived of the protection of the most
powerful member of his family, again fell into difficulties, and finally
died in 1560 at the age of thirty-five. His Roman sojourn has given
birth to perhaps the finest of his works, _Les Antiquités de Rome_,
Englished by Spenser under the slightly altered title of 'The Ruins of
Rome.' Du Bellay's works are not extensive, and indeed they could hardly
be so, considering the shortness of his life and the interruptions of
business and study which even that short life underwent. But he is
undoubtedly the member of the group whose work keeps at the highest
level. Nor is his excellence limited to one or two tones. For grace and
simplicity his _Vanneur_, his _Épitaphe d'un Chat_, and several others
of his _Jeux Rustiques_ challenge comparison. He had a strong vein of
satire, which he showed in denouncing fawning poetasters as well as the
corrupt and intriguing hangers on of the Papal court. His sonnets to
Olive have the finest flavour of the peculiarly cultivated and graceful
voluptuousness which has been noted as one of the distinguishing marks
of the French Renaissance. His _Antiquités de Rome_ exhibit even more
strongly another of those distinguishing marks, the melancholy sense of
death, destruction, and nothingness; indeed, as the _Heptameron_ is the
typical prose work of this period, so Du Bellay's poems may be taken as
its typical poetry. He has been called the Apollo of the Pléiade, but he
should with justice be called its Mercury as well, for, as he was
perhaps its best poet, so he was certainly its best prose writer. It is
unlucky that he was less favoured by fate and fortune than any other of
the greater writers of the century.

[Sidenote: Belleau.]

The position of best poet of the Pléiade--Ronsard, the greatest, having
mingled a good deal of alloy with his gold--has been sometimes disputed
for Rémy Belleau[196]. It is certain that his 'Avril' holds with Du
Bellay's 'Vanneur' and Ronsard's already-mentioned 'Quand vous serez
bien vieille,' the rank of the best known and best liked poems of the
school. Belleau, whose life was extremely uneventful, was born at
Nogent-le-Rotrou in 1528, and was attached during nearly the whole of
his life to the household of Rémy de Lorraine, Marquis d'Elbeuf, and his
son Charles, Duc d'Elbeuf, whose education he superintended and in whose
house he spent his days. He died in 1577 and received an elaborate
funeral, being carried to the grave by his brother stars, Ronsard and
Baïf, and by two of the younger disciples of the Pléiade, Desportes and
Jamyn. Belleau was the chief purely descriptive poet and the chief
poetical translator of the Pléiade. He began by a collection of poems
entitled _Petites Inventions_ (short descriptive pieces), and by a
translation of Anacreon. In 1565 a more ambitious work, the _Bergerie_,
made its appearance. This is a mixture of prose and poetry, describing
country life and its attractions. It is in this that the famous 'Avril'
occurs, and there are other detached pieces not much inferior. In 1566
another rather curiously conceived work made its appearance, the _Amours
et Nouveaux Échanges de Pierres Précieuses_. As a whole this is perhaps
his best book. Besides these, Belleau also translated or paraphrased the
_Phenomena_ of Aratus, _Ecclesiastes_, and the _Song of Solomon_. He
deserves to rank with not a few poets who have often attained a fair
secondary position in the art, and whose special faculty disposes them
to patient and ingenious description in more or less poetical verse. The
stately and at the same time flexible rhythm, the brilliant and varied
vocabulary which the Pléiade used, lent themselves not ill to this task,
and Belleau's talent, learning, and industry enabled him to give an
unusually equable charm to his work. But he is altogether too
occasional, too void of the higher poetical sentiment, and too limited
in range, to be ranked with Ronsard or with Du Bellay. His peculiar
quality of patient labour stood him in good stead in composing a
Macaronic poem on the Huguenots, which is by no means without value.

[Sidenote: Baïf.]

Jean Antoine de Baïf[197] was a man of more varied talent than Belleau,
and his history and personality are more interesting. He was the natural
son of Lazare de Baïf, French ambassador at Venice, and of a noble lady
of that city. Marriage was impossible, for Lazare de Baïf, who was
himself a man of letters, was in orders; but he did his best for his
son, and in 1547, when he was still very young, left him a considerable
fortune. Baïf was, except Jodelle, the youngest member of the Pléiade,
but he early distinguished himself by his expertness in the classical
languages. He began in French, like the majority of his school, with a
collection of sonnets and other pieces, entitled _Les Amours de Méline_,
and he followed them up with the _Amours de Francine_. Francine is said
to have had over her predecessor the advantage or disadvantage of
existing. Baïf then turned to the new theatre, which his comrade Jodelle
had introduced, and translated or adapted several plays of Plautus,
Terence, and Sophocles, but these will be noticed elsewhere. He returned
to poetry proper in _Les Passe-Temps_, a poetical miscellany of merit.
Lastly, in 1581, appeared a curious work, entitled _Les Mimes_, composed
of octosyllabic dizains, half-moral, half-satirical in tone and subject.
Baïf, who was thought by some of his contemporaries to write even better
in Latin than in French, was a chief defender of the often-mooted though
preposterous plan of adjusting modern languages to the exact metres of
the ancients. This idea, which somewhat later seduced no less a man than
Spenser for a time, and with him many of the brightest wits in England,
is perhaps almost more hopeless in French than in our own tongue, owing
to the omnipotence of accent and the habit of slurring almost all the
syllables of a word except one. But it was frequently entertained at
different times through the century, and is said by Agrippa d'Aubigné to
have been started as early as 1530 by a certain Mousset, of whom there
is no other trace. Baïf, who was also a spelling reformer, wrote a good
deal of verse in the metres he advocated, but with no greater success
than the other adventurous persons who have attempted the same _tour de
force_. He is also said to have conceived the idea of an Academy, and to
have in many other ways shown himself an active and ardent reformer of
letters. It is for this alertness of spirit and general proficiency in
literary craftsmanship that Baïf is memorable, rather than for supreme
or even remarkable poetical power. His epitaphs are among his best work,
probably owing to his careful study of the hardly-to-be-surpassed
examples of this kind of composition which the classical languages
afford. He was a diligent panegyrist of country life and country ways,
but no single work of his in this class comes up to the masterpieces of
Ronsard, Du Bellay, and Belleau. Range, variety, and inventiveness of
spirit are Baïf's chief merits.

[Sidenote: Daurat, Jodelle, Pontus de Tyard.]

The three remaining members of the group may be disposed of more
rapidly. Daurat, the eldest, and in a sense the master of all, was, as
far as regards French composition, the dark star of the Pléiade, for he
wrote nothing of importance in the vernacular. Jodelle was a voluminous
writer, but his dramatic importance so far exceeds his merely poetical
value that he will be best treated of when we come to discuss the
Theatre of the Renaissance. A somewhat curious instance of his poetical
energy is to be found in his unfinished, indeed hardly begun,
_Contre-Amours_. All the rest had started with a volume of verse in
praise of some real or imaginary mistress, so Jodelle determined to
write one against an unkind lady. The seventh member of the Pléiade,
Pontus de Tyard, was the eldest save Daurat, the longest-lived and the
highest in station, while he was also in a way the most original, having
published his first book before the appearance of the _Défense et
Illustration_. He was born at Bissy, near Macon, and, having been
appointed Bishop of Chalon, died in 1603, last of the group. Poetry was
only part of his literary occupations, and literary work itself by no
means absorbed him. But his _Erreurs Amoureuses_, addressed to a certain
Pasithée, and other works, give him fair rank in the school. He has been
erroneously credited with the introduction of the sonnet into France,
an honour which is probably due, as has been more than once observed, to
Saint Gelais. But if he did not introduce the form, he at least
contributed one of its most striking examples in his beautiful Sonnet to
'Sleep,' a favourite subject of the age both in France and England.

The Pléiade proper by no means monopolised all the poetical talent of
the period. Indeed, there can be no surer testimony to the real strength
of the movement than the universal adherence which was given to its
methods by those who were in no sense bound to it by personal
connection. A second Pléiade might be made up of members who had almost
as much poetical talent as the actual titular stars. Magny, Tahureau, Du
Bartas, D'Aubigné, Desportes, Bertaut, had each of them talent not far
inferior to that of Du Bellay and of Ronsard, and equal to that of the
five minor members. Garnier was immensely Jodelle's superior in his own
line. Jamyn, Durant, Passerat, the two La Tailles, Vauquelin de la
Fresnaye, even La Boëtie, who had, as far as can be made out, far more
vocation in poetry than in prose, are names at least equal to those of
Pontus de Tyard or Baïf. But they did not form part of the energetic
_coterie_ who started and pushed the movement, and so they have lacked
the reputation which the combined and successful effort of the Seven has
given them. Yet Du Bartas is the one French poet of the sixteenth
century who wrote a poem on the great scale with success, and D'Aubigné
ranks with Regnier and Victor Hugo in the strength and vigour of his

[Sidenote: Magny.]

Olivier de Magny[198] was a kind of petted child of the Pléiade. His
_Amours_ are prefaced by commendatory verses, among which compositions
of four out of the seven--Ronsard, Baïf, Belleau and Jodelle--figure,
and he was as strenuous in carrying out the recommendations of Du
Bellay's _Illustration_ as any of the seven themselves. His _Amours_
just mentioned, his _Odes_, his _Gayetés_ even, testify to the obedient
admiration which young verse-writers often show for the leading poets of
their day. But there is no servile imitation in Magny. His life was
short, and the dates of its beginning and ending are not exactly known,
though he died in 1560. He was a lover of Louise Labé, and was worthy
of her, poetically speaking. He was born, like Marot, at Cahors; he went
to Rome, like many other literary men of his time, on a diplomatic
errand; and his works were all published between 1553 and his death. The
_Odes_ are the best of them; the _Gayetés_ are light and lively enough;
and in both his volumes of sonnets, but especially in the _Soupirs_,
excellent examples of the form are to be found. Magny had a strong
feeling for the formal art of poetry, and it was thus natural that he
should eagerly embrace the gospel of Ronsard. But besides this, he had a
true poetical imagination, and a real command of poetical language. A
sonnet in dialogue, which greatly attracted the admiration of Colletet,
the historian of French poetry in the next age, is perhaps not much more
than a _tour de force_. But many of his other pieces show real feeling,
and have a certain youthfulness about them which suits well with the
sentiments they express, and the ardour of literary as well as amatory
devotion which the poet endeavours to convey.

[Sidenote: Tahureau.]

Still younger and probably still more short-lived, but superior as a
poet, was Jacques Tahureau[199]. He was born at Le Mans of a noble
family, and died at the age of twenty-eight. But his life, if short, was
a happy one, and, like most of his contemporaries, he published a volume
of amatory sonnets under the title, gracefully affected even for that
age of graceful affectation, of _Mignardises Amoureuses de l'Admirée_.
Unlike many of the heroines of the Pléiade and their satellites, who are
either known or shrewdly suspected to have been imaginary, the _Admirée_
of Tahureau was a real person. What is more, he married her, and they
lived together for three years before his early death. Before the
_Mignardises_, he had published a _Premier Recueil_, and after them he
produced a third volume of odes, sonnets, etc. All three display the
same peculiarities, and these peculiarities are sufficiently remarkable.
Tahureau was named by the flattery and the classical fancies of his
contemporaries the French Catullus, and the parallel is not so rash as
might be thought. It is true that it came originally from Du Bellay in
one of his satirical veins. But a later poetical critic, Vauquelin de la
Fresnaye, is more precise in his description, and oddly enough uses the
very term which was afterwards applied in England to Shakespeare's
youthful sonnets. Tahureau, he says:--

    Nous affrianda tous au sucre de cet art.

The author of the _Mignardises_ is indeed somewhat 'sugared' in his
style of writing; but there are genuine passion and genuine poetical
feeling as well in his verse. Of the minor poets of the time he is
probably the best.

[Sidenote: Minor Ronsardists.]

Before noticing the four remaining poets who have been mentioned as
occupying the highest places next to the Pléiade itself, a brief review
of the minor poets until the end of the century may be given. Étienne de
la Boëtie wrote poems which, though they have some of the stiffness and
a little of the hollowness of his _Contre-un,_ possess a certain
grandeur of sentiment and a knack of diction other than commonplace,
which explain Montaigne's admiration. Claude Buttet is chiefly
remarkable for having made a curious attempt to combine the classicism
of the new school with the romanticism of the old. He wrote Sapphics in
rhyme, an idea sufficiently ingenious, but hardly successful. Yet it is
fair to remember that some of the varieties of Leonine verse lacked
neither force nor elegance. The truth is, that these classic metres are
so alien to all modern tongues, that, rhymed or unrhymed, they are
doomed to failure. Jean de la Péruse was, like Magny and Tahureau, a
poet who died before he had reached his term. At twenty-five few men
have left lasting works. Yet La Péruse not only produced a tragedy of
some merit, but minor poems promising more. Jean Doublet was a much
older man, and is chiefly noticeable as an example of the writers who,
beginning with Marot, or even with Crétin, and the Rhétoriqueurs for
models, bowed to the overmastering influence of the Pléiade. Docility of
this kind, however, rarely promises much poetical worth, and Doublet was
not a great poet; but his poems, which have had better fortune in the
way of reprints than those of greater men, show power of versification.

Amadis Jamyn was a somewhat more distinguished poet than those who have
just been mentioned. Born in 1540, he came to Paris, when the triumph
and supremacy of Ronsard was completely assured, and was taken under
the protection of the Prince of Poets. He was also honoured, as we have
seen, by being allowed to stand by the side of Ronsard, of Baïf, of
Desportes, at the funeral of Rémy Belleau. He translated the last twelve
books of the Iliad to complete Salel, and began a translation of the
Odyssey; besides which he wrote a poem on the Chase, another on
Generosity, and, like everybody else at the time, abundance of
miscellaneous pieces. He was a good scholar, and there was more ease in
his verse than is usually to be found in his contemporaries (save the
greatest of them), who too often allowed their classical studies to
stiffen and starch their verse. Another admirable poet, though of no
great compass, was the dramatist Grévin. His _Villanesques_, a modified
form of the favourite Villanelle, which had survived the other
_épiceries_ condemned by Du Bellay, are singularly graceful and tender,
epithets which are also applicable to his _Baisers_. The brothers La
Taille also, like Grévin, are chiefly known as dramatists. Jean de la
Taille, though but a boy of ten years old when the _style Marotique_ was
swept out of fashion, had sufficient independence to compose _blasons_
(and very pretty ones) of the daisy and the rose. Others of his poems
have mediaeval forms or settings, but he imitated Ronsard in his _Mort
de Paris_, and Du Bellay in his _Courtisan Retiré_. The works of Jacques
de la Taille, who died young, were chiefly epigrams. Guy du Faur de
Pibrac wrote moral quatrains, which had a great vogue, and which in a
way deserved it. Nicolas Rapin was, with the exception of Passerat, the
chief of the poets of the _Ménippée_, a remarkable group, who will be
noticed further when we come to that singular production. But Passerat
himself deserves more notice than simply as a political satirist and a
famous Latin scholar. Of all the poets of the sixteenth century before
Regnier and after Marot, Passerat was the one who possessed most comic
talent. His works are full of little touches which exhibit this, while
at the same time he was a master of the graceful love of poetry which
imitation of the ancients had made fashionable. His Villanelle 'J'ai
perdu ma Tourterelle' is probably the most elegant specimen of a
poetical trifle that the age produced, and has of late years attracted
great admiration. Vauquelin de la Fresnaye, a lawyer, the author of an
Art of Poetry, and of the first satires, so called, in French, had a
good deal of poetical power, which he expended chiefly on pastoral
subjects; but unfortunately his command of language and style was by no
means always equal to his command of fresh and agreeable imagery and

[Sidenote: Du Bartas.]

Guillaume de Saluste du Bartas[200], the 'Protestant Ronsard,' was born
in 1544 at Montfort, near Auch, served Henry of Navarre in war and
diplomacy, was wounded at Ivry, and died of his wounds in 1590. His
first work was _Judith_; then followed _La Première Semaine_, and next
_Uranie_, _Le Triomphe de la Foi_, and the _Seconde Semaine_. He also
wrote numerous smaller poems, including one on the battle of Ivry. The
'First Week of Creation' is his greatest and most famous work. It went
through thirty editions in a few years; was translated into English by
Sylvester, gave not a little inspiration to Milton, and was warmly
admired by Goethe. Ronsard at first eagerly welcomed Du Bartas; but his
jealousy being aroused by the pretensions of the Calvinist party to set
up their poet as a rival to himself, he resented this in an indignant
and vigorous address to Daurat, which contains some very just criticisms
on Du Bartas. Nevertheless the merits of the latter are extremely great,
and his personage and work very interesting. It has been said of him
that he represents, in the first place, the extreme development of the
Ronsardising innovation; in the second place, the highest literary
culture attained by the French Calvinists. Inferior to D'Aubigné in
knowledge of the world, in the choice of subjects perennially
interesting, and in terse vigour of expression, Du Bartas was the
superior of the great Protestant satirist in picturesqueness, in
imagination, and in facility of descriptive power. The stately and
gorgeous abundance of the vocabulary with which the Hellenising and
Latinising innovations of the Pléiade enriched the French language
supplied him with colours and material to work with, and his own genius
did the rest. His attempt to naturalise Greek compounds, such as
'Aime-Lyre,' 'Donne-Âme,' and the rest, has done him more harm than
anything else; but his combination of classical learning, with the
varied colour and vivid imagination of the middle age and the
Renaissance, often results in extraordinarily striking expressions.
_L'Eschine azurée_, for instance, is a singularly picturesque, if also
somewhat barbaric, reminiscence of [Greek: eurea nôta thalassês]: the
enforcement of the idea of _hora novissima tempora pessima_ in the four
following lines is admirable:--

    Nos exécrables moeurs, dedans Gomorrhe apprises,
    Les troublées saisons, les civiles fureurs,
    Les menaces du ciel, sont les avant-coureurs
    De Christ, qui vient tenir ses dernières assises.

In such a passage again as the following, the power and simplicity of
the diction can escape no reader; the piling up of the strokes is worthy
of Victor Hugo:--

    Les étoiles cherront. Le désordre, la nuict,
    La frayeur, le trespas, la tempeste, le bruit,
    Entreront en quartier.

All that was wanting to make Du Bartas a poet of the first rank was some
faculty of self-criticism; of natural _verve_ and imagination as well as
of erudition he had no lack, but in critical faculty he seems to have
been totally deficient. His beauties, rare in kind and not small in
amount, are alloyed with vast quantities of dull absurdity.

[Sidenote: D'Aubigné.]

[Sidenote: Desportes.]

Agrippa d'Aubigné[201] was a few years Du Bartas' junior, and long
outlived him. He was an important prose-writer as well as poet, and his
long life was as full of interesting events as of literary occupations.
At six years old he read Latin, Greek, and Hebrew; a year or two later
his father made him swear, in presence of the gibbeted corpses of the
unsuccessful conspirators of Amboise, to revenge their death. Shortly
afterwards he narrowly escaped the stake. For a time he dwelt with Henry
of Navarre at the court of Charles IX., and there thoroughly imbued
himself with the Ronsardising tradition. But he soon escaped with his
master, and for years was a Calvinist irreconcileable, always for war to
the knife, and as rude and bold in the council chamber as in the field.
The death of his master was unfortunate for D'Aubigné; but, though he at
first opposed the regency of Marie de Medicis, he made terms for
himself. The publication, however, of his 'History' brought enemies on
him, and he fled to Geneva, finishing his days there. His prose works
are too numerous to mention separately: the chief besides his histories
are the _Confession de Sancy_ and the _Aventures du Baron de Fæneste_,
both satirical in character and full of vigour. He began as a poet by
poems in the lighter Pléiade style, but his masterpiece is the strange
work called _Les Tragiques_. This consists of seven books, amounting to
not much less than ten thousand lines, and entitled _Misères_,
_Princes_, _La Chambre Dorée_, _Les Feux_, _Les Fers_, _Vengeance_,
_Jugement_. The poem is half historical and half satirical, dealing with
the religious wars, the persecution of the Huguenots, the abuses of the
administration, and of contemporary manners, etc. Nothing equal to the
best verses of this singular book had yet been seen in France, and not
much equal to them has been produced since. The tone of sombre and
impressive declamation had been to some extent anticipated by Du Bartas,
but chiefly for purposes of description. D'Aubigné turned it to its
natural use in invective, and the effect is often extraordinarily fine.
Very copious citation would be necessary to show its excellence: but
before Victor Hugo there is nothing in French equal to D'Aubigné at his
best in point of clangour of sound and impetuosity of rhythm. It is
noteworthy that Du Bartas' _Semaine_, with the _Tragiques_ and the
tragedies of Garnier, finally established the Alexandrine as the
indispensable metre for serious and impassioned poetry in France.
Hitherto the decasyllable and the dodecasyllable had been used
indiscriminately, and Ronsard's _Franciade_ is written in the former.
But after the three poets just mentioned, the Alexandrine became
invariable; the decasyllable being left for light and occasional work,
as a sort of medium in usage as in bulk between the Alexandrine and the
octosyllable. The truth is that, until the improvements of language and
style which the Pléiade had introduced, the Alexandrine couplet had not
had either suppleness or dignity enough for the work. It was lumbering
and disjointed. As soon, however, as the classical turn, inseparable
from a specially classical metre, had been given to the language, it at
once took its place and has ever since kept it, though in the century
succeeding it was deprived of much of its force by arbitrary rules. The
lines of Boileau condemning Ronsard[202] have inseparably connected
Desportes and Bertaut, and have given them a position in literary
history which is as intrinsically inaccurate as it is unduly high.
Neither approaches Du Bartas or D'Aubigné in poetical excellence or in
adroit carrying out of Ronsardism. But neither was in the least made
_retenu_ by Ronsard's failure, and it did not enter the head of
themselves or any of their contemporaries, till their last days, that
Ronsard had failed. Philippe Desportes[203] was a very unclerical
cleric, a successful courtier and diplomatist, a great favourite with
the ladies of the court. He was also a poet of little vigour, but of
great sweetness, much elegance of style and form, and extraordinary
neatness, if not originality, of expression. With Jamyn he was the most
prominent of Ronsard's own particular disciples. His poetical works are
sharply divided, like those of Herrick and Donne and some other poets,
on the one hand, into poems of a very mundane character, collections of
sonnets after the Pléiade fashion to real or imaginary heroines,
celebrations of the ladies and the _mignons_ of the court of Henri III.,
imitations of Italian verse, and the like; on the other, into devotional
poems, which include some translations of the Psalms of not a little
merit. Personally Desportes appears to have been a self-seeker and a
sycophant; not without good nature, but covetous, intriguing, corrupt,
given to base compliances. He was Du Bellay's _poëte courtisan_ in the
worst sense of the phrase[204]. But working at leisure and with care,
and undistracted by any literary or sentimental enthusiasm, he found
means to give to his work a polish and correctness which many of his
contemporaries of greater talent did not, or could not, give. In this
fact the explanation of Boileau's commendation--for it is no doubt
meant, relatively speaking, for commendation--is probably to be found.

[Sidenote: Bertaut.]

Jean Bertaut was, to use a metaphor frequently employed in literary
history, the 'moon' of Desportes. Like him, he is a poet rather elegant
than vigorous, rather correct than spirited. Like him, he wrote light
verse and devotional poems, and, as in the case of Desportes, the
religious poems are--rather contrary to the reader's expectation--the
best of the two. His work, however, was even more limited in amount than
that of his contemporary.


[192] The list is sometimes given rather differently; instead of Jodelle
and Pontus de Tyard, Scévole de St. Marthe and Muretus are substituted.
But the enumeration in the text is the accepted one.

[193] Ed. Blanchemain. 8 vols. Paris, 1857-67.

[194] The term usually applied to him by contemporaries.

[195] Ed. Marty-Laveaux. 2 vols. Paris, 1866-7.

[196] Ed. Gouverneur. 3 vols. Paris, 1866.

[197] Not recently re-edited in full. In selection by Becq de
Fouquières. Paris, 1874.

[198] Recently edited in 5 vols. by Courbet. Paris, v. d.

[199] Ed. Blanchemain. 2 vols. Geneva, 1869.

[200] Du Bartas, always unjustly treated in France, probably from a
curious tradition of mingled sectarian and literary jealousy, has not
been reprinted of late years. The edition used is that of 1610-1611.
Paris, 2 vols, folio.

[201] Ed. Réaume and de Caussade. Vols. 1-4. Paris, 1873-7. There is
another volume to follow.

[202] Here are these celebrated lines:--

    Ronsard, qui le suivit, par une autre méthode
    Réglant tout, brouilla tout, fit un art à sa mode,
    Et toutefois longtemps eut un heureux destin.
    Mais sa muse en Français parlant Grec et Latin
    Vit dans l'âge suivant, par un retour grotesque,
    Tomber de ses grands mots le faste pédantesque.
    Ce poète orgueilleux, trébuché de si haut,
    Rendit puis retenus Desportes et Bertaut.

    _Art Poét._, Chant i.

[203] Ed. Michiels. Paris, 1858.

[204] He was not a courtier for nothing. He held numerous abbacies, and
Charles IX. is said to have given him 800 gold pieces, Henri III. 10,000
crowns of silver, in each case for a poetical offering of very small



[Sidenote: Gringore.]

It so happened that the mediaeval theatre closed, as far as its
exclusive possession of the stage is concerned, with one of the most
remarkable of all its writers. Pierre Gringore[205], who towards the
close of his career preferred the spelling Gringoire, was a Norman by
birth. His poetical and dramatic capacity has been considerably
exaggerated by the learned but crotchety scholar who was at first
charged with the joint editorship of his works in the Bibliothèque
Elzévirienne. But, when the hyperboles of M. Charles d'Héricault are
reduced to their simplest terms, Gringore remains a remarkable figure.
It is to him that we owe the only complete and really noteworthy
tetralogy, composed of _cry_, sotie, morality, and farce, which exists
to show the final result of the mediaeval play--the _Jeu du Prince des
Sots_. To him is also due the most remarkable of the sixteenth-century
mysteries, that of _Saint Louis_; and his miscellaneous poems, as yet
not fully collected, show us a man of letters possessed of no small
faculty for miscellaneous work. Gringore first emerges as a pamphleteer
in verse, on the side of the policy of Louis XII. He held the important
position of _mère sotte_ in the company of persons who charged
themselves with playing the sotie, and Louis perceived the advantages
which he might gain by enlisting such a writer on his side. Gringore's
early works are allegorical poems of the kind which the increasing
admiration of the _Roman de la Rose_, joined to the practice of the
Rhétoriqueurs, had made fashionable in France; but they are directly
political in tone, and an undercurrent of dramatic intention is always
manifest in them. _Les folles Entreprises_ is a very remarkable work. It
might be described as a series of monologues of the kind usual and
already described, but continuous, and having the independent parts
bound to each other by speeches of the author _in propria persona_. The
titles of the separate sections--_L'Entreprise des folz Orgueilleux_,
_Réflexions de l'Auteur sur la Guerre d'Italie_, _le Blason de
Pratique_, _Balade et Supplication à la Vierge Marie_ (_et se peult
Interpréter sur la Royne de France_), etc.--explain the plan of this
curious book as well as any laboured analysis could do. The author takes
what he considers to be the chief grievances in Church and State, and
dilates upon them in the manner, half moralising, half allegoric, which
was popular. An argument of _Les folles Entreprises_ would, however,
require considerable space. It enters into the most recondite
theological questions, and of its general tone the heading of the last
chapter tells as good a story as anything else can do: 'Comme le
très-chrestien roy et Justice relevent Foy qui estait abattu par
Richesse et Papelardise.' Other works of the same semi-dramatic,
semi-poetical kind are even more directly political in substance: _Les
Entreprises de Venise_; _La Chasse du Cerf des Cerfs_ (Pope Julius),
etc. Sometimes, as in _La Coqueluche_, the author becomes a simple
chronicler describing incidents of his time. Indeed it would hardly be
an exaggeration to describe Gringore's work as the result of a kind of
groping after journalism condemned by the circumstances of the time to
the most awkward and inappropriate form. In his definitely dramatic work
the same practical tendency reappears. The tetralogy is of a directly
politico-social kind. The _cry_, a summons in ironical terms to _sots_
of all kinds to come and hear their lesson; the sotie, an audacious
satire on the state of things; the morality, in which the very names of
the personages--Peuple François, Peuple Italique, Divine Pungnicion,
etc.--speak for themselves, all show this tendency; and even the _bonne
bouche_ at the end, the farce (which is altogether too Rabelaisian in
subject for description here), seems to illustrate the motto--a very
practical one--'Il faut cultiver son jardin.' Less directly the same
purpose can be traced in the _Mystère de Monseigneur Saint Loys_. This
is a picture of the ideal patriot king doing judgment and justice, and
serving God by his voyages over sea, and his punishments of blasphemers
and loose livers at home.

[Sidenote: The last Age of the Mediaeval Theatre.]

The first two quarters, and especially the first quarter, of the century
contributed plentifully to the list of mysteries, moralities, and
farces. The dates of the latter are not easy to ascertain, and it is
probable that most of them are older than the present period. The taste
for very lengthy mysteries and moralities, however, had by no means died
out, and some of the mysteries, notably those of Antoine Chevallet, are
of considerable merit. To the sixteenth century too belongs what is
probably the longest of all moralities, that on _The Just and Unjust
Man_, which contains 36,000 lines, besides the _Mundus_, _Caro_, _et
Daemonia_, and the _Condamnation de Banquet_ already described.

This school was continued, though under some difficulties, until a late
period of the century. It had two things in its favour; it was extremely
popular, and it lent itself, far more than the stately rival soon to be
discussed, to the political and social uses which had long been
associated with the stage in the mind of audiences. In Beza's tragedy of
_Abraham Sacrifiant_, a kind of union takes place between the two
styles. But even the triumph of the Pléiade did not at once abolish the
mysteries which were still legal in the provinces, which had a strong
hold on the fancy of the populace, and which some men of letters who
were themselves much indebted to the new movement, notably Vauquelin de
la Fresnaye, upheld with pen as well as with tongue. Thomas Le Coq, a
beneficed clerk of Falaise, wrote a really remarkable play, _Cain_, of
the purest mystery kind, in 1580; and the troubles of the League brought
forth a large number of pieces which approached much nearer to the
mediaeval drama, and especially to the mediaeval drama in the form which
Gringore had given it, than to the model of Jodelle.

[Sidenote: Beginnings of the Classical Drama.]

It was, however, this model which had the seeds of life in it, and which
was destined to serve as the pattern for the French drama of the future.
In the manifesto of the Pléiade Du Bellay gave especial prominence to
the drama among the literary kinds, in which French had need of
strengthening from classical sources. The classical tragedy in the
classical language, and even in translation, was already no stranger to
French audiences, and the principle of constructing modern vernacular
plays on the same model had become familiar to the upper and learned
classes by the practice of the Italians, with which they had become
acquainted, partly through the numerous visits, friendly and hostile,
paid by Frenchmen to Italy in the early years of the sixteenth century,
partly through the reproduction of these Italian plays at the courts of
Francis I. and Henri II. This reproduction of foreign work was not
confined to the court, for in 1548 the town of Lyons greeted Catherine
de Medicis with an Italian play acted by an Italian company. As for
translations of classical drama, Lazare de Baïf translated the _Electra_
as early as 1537, and Buchanan, Muretus, and others composed Latin plays
for their pupils to act. In all these plays, Latin, Italian, and
French-translation, the influence of the tragedian Seneca was paramount,
and this influence made an enduring mark on the future drama of France.
Greek, though it was ardently studied, was, from the purely literary
point of view, little comprehended by the French humanists, and of the
three tragedians Euripides was the only one who made much impression
upon them. Seneca, as the only extant Latin tragedian, had a monopoly of
the classical language which they understood best and revered most
heartily. His model was also peculiarly imitable. The paucity of action,
the strict observation of certain easily observable rules, the regular
and harmonious but easily comprehensible system of his choruses, the
declamatory style and strong ethical temper of his sentiments, all
appealed to the French Renaissance. Within a year or two from the time
when Du Bellay had sounded the note of innovation, Jodelle answered the
summons with a tragedy and a comedy at the same time.

[Sidenote: Jodelle.]

Étienne Jodelle[206], Seigneur de Lymodin, was one of the youngest of
Ronsard's fellows. He was born at Paris in 1532, and was thus barely
twenty years old when, in 1552, he founded at once modern French tragedy
with his _Cléopâtre_, and modern French comedy with his _Eugène_. The
representation was a great success, and obtained for the author from the
King, Henri II., besides many compliments, the sum of five hundred
crowns. The success of the plays also brought about an incident famous
in French literary history of the anecdotic kind. The seven determined
to celebrate the occasion by a country excursion, and on the way to
Arcueil they unluckily met a flock of goats. Deeply imbued as they all
were with classical fancies, it was almost inevitable that the idea of a
Dionysiac festival should strike them, and a goat was caught, crowned
with flowers and solemnly paraded, Ronsard himself officiating as the
god. This harmless freak was represented by the zealots of the time as
an impious pagan orgie, in which the goat had been actually sacrificed
to a false god, and the reputation of the brotherhood sank almost
equally with Catholics and Protestants. Six years after, Jodelle
produced his second tragedy, _Didon_, also with great success. But he
was not a fortunate person. The miscarriage of a pageant of which he had
the direction alienated the favour of the court from him, and he was too
proud or too careless to solicit its grace. He was a loose and reckless
liver, and receives from Pierre de l'Estoile a character which very
probably is unduly harsh. However this may be, he died at the age of
forty, indigent and ruined in constitution. His literary activity was
great, but only a small part of his work survives, and his three plays
are the only important portion of this.

The comedy has some impression of classical study, though very much less
than the two tragedies. It is, unlike the indigenous farce, divided
regularly into acts and scenes; it is much longer than the native
comedy, and some of the characters show, though faintly and at a
distance, some traces of a reading of Terence. But it retains the
octosyllabic metre, and its general scheme, despite a somewhat greater
involution of plot and multiplicity of characters, is that of a farce.
Eugène, the hero, a rich and luxurious churchman, is in love with Alix,
whom, to save appearances, he has married to a wittol of the name of
Guillaume. Alix, however, has several other lovers, among whom is
Florimond a soldier, the rejected suitor of Hélène, Eugène's sister.
These personages are completed by Maître Jean, the abbé's chaplain and
general factotum, a creditor of Guillaume's, some servants of the
soldier Florimond, etc. The plot is very simple, consisting of hardly
anything but the return of Florimond from the wars, and his wrath at
discovering Alix's relations not merely with Guillaume but with Eugène.
He is finally made happy with Hélène. Alix takes the wise resolution to
be less prodigal of her affections, and the play ends. Some detached
passages, especially the opening scene, in which the lazy, dissolute
life of wealthy churchmen is very pointedly satirised, are amusing
enough, and the characters of the chaplain and the husband are not far
from _la vraie comédie_. The tragedies are indirectly of more
importance, but intrinsically much duller reading. Instead, however, of
cleaving, as _Eugène_ does, closely to the lines of the existing drama,
the innovation in them is of the boldest kind. The octosyllabic verse,
hitherto sacred to drama, is exchanged in _Cléopâtre_ for a mixture of
the decasyllabic and the Alexandrine, some scenes being written in the
one, others in the other. Nor is the tentative character of the work
only thus indicated; for the rhymes follow different systems in the
different scenes. In _Didon_, however, Jodelle settled down to the
unbroken Alexandrine with alternation of masculine and feminine rhymes,
which has remained the standard vehicle of French tragedy ever since.
His general scheme follows that of Seneca closely, and his choruses are
written in stanzas of short verses regularly arranged. The matter of
both plays is taken with tolerable exactness, in the one case from
Plutarch, in the other from Virgil; but a somewhat full analytic
description of the first French tragedy must be given. _Didon_ is
something of an advance in versification, as has been pointed out, but
in other respects it is perhaps inferior to _Cléopâtre_.

The piece begins with a prologue to the king, and then the first act
opens with a long soliloquy from the ghost of Antony. Long speeches, it
should be said, are the bane of this early French tragedy, and for
nearly a century the evil increased instead of diminishing. Cleopatra,
Charmium, and Eras then appear, for the play follows Plutarch strictly
enough. The queen expresses her despair, and announces her intention to
die. The first act is concluded by a long chorus of Alexandrian women,
who bewail the shortness of life in six-syllable quatrains. The second
act, like the first (unless the monologue of the ghost is counted in
this latter), consists of only a single scene and a chorus. The scene is
between Octavian, Agrippa, and Proculeius, who argue about the probable
fate of Cleopatra. The conqueror is disposed to mercy and to regret for
Antony's death, but his officers are less amiably minded. They agree,
however, that Cleopatra will have to be watched for fear of suicide. The
chorus now is nominally divided into strophes and antistrophes, but
these are really only uniform stanzas of six six-syllable lines each,
with the rhymes arranged a, b, a, b, c, c, and there is no epode. The
third act contains the interview of Octavian with Cleopatra, the
surrender of the treasures, and the treachery of Seleucus. The chorus
takes part in this scene both by a short song and a longer one in
couplets, but arranged in eight-line stanzas, which is preceded by a
dialogue with Seleucus. The act thus consists of two scenes. In the
fourth act Cleopatra repeats and regularly matures her resolve of death.
It contains two choric pieces of some beauty. The first is an undivided
song in sixes and fours; the second has a regular arrangement of
strophe, antistrophe, and epode three times repeated, consisting of
five-syllable lines, of which the strophe and antistrophe contain eleven
each and the epode eight, arranged--strophe and antistrophe a, b, a, b,
c, c, d, d, e, e, d, epode a, b, a, b, c, c, d, d. The fifth act is very
short, containing a recital by Proculeius of the Queen's death, and a
choric lament in quatrains. It will thus be seen that the action in the
piece is very small, except in the brawl with Seleucus; that the chorus
has the full importance which it possessed in the classical tragedy; and
that, owing to the few changes of scene and the other restrictions
imposed upon himself by the poet, the dramatic capabilities of the plan
are not a little limited. The same state of things continued to be the
case during the whole duration of the school whose master Jodelle was.
Style and versification were sometimes better, sometimes worse than his;
but, with comparatively few exceptions, the general conception was the
same, long monologues, few characters, an almost total defect of action,
which is conducted by the aid of messengers, etc.

[Sidenote: Minor Pléiade Dramatists.]

The fervent spirit of imitation which characterised the satellites of
the Pléiade has already been noticed more than once. But in no
department was it more marked than in that of drama. Jean de la Péruse,
who, like many of the Pléiade poets, died very young, produced a _Medea_
imitated from Seneca, and Charles Toustain an _Agamemnon,_ also taken
from the same author. Jacques de la Taille at a very early age wrote a
_Darius_ and an _Alexander_, besides a _Didon_, which is lost. These
pieces have some merit, and it is noteworthy that the metre varies, as
in Jodelle's model. A slight eccentricity of realism, however, has been
Jacques de la Taille's chief passport to a place in the history of
French literature. The death of Darius occurs in the middle of the word

    Mes enfants et ma femme aie en recommanda ...
    Il ne put achever, ear la mort l'en garda.

It is perhaps not insignificant that the verse is completed if the word
is not.

Of this immediate group of Jodelle's followers, however, the most
remarkable before Garnier was Jacques Grévin, who was noteworthy both as
a dramatist and as a poet. Grévin was a Protestant and a practitioner of
medicine, in which capacity he accompanied Marguerite de France, Duchess
of Savoy, to Turin, and died there, at the age of thirty. Before he was
twenty he wrote a tragedy, _La Mort de César,_ which has considerable
merit, and two comedies, _Les Esbahis_ and _La Trésorière_, which are
perhaps better still. Jean de la Taille, the brother of Jacques, but a
better poet and a better dramatist, wrote _Saul Furieux_ and _Les
Gabaonites_, two of the numerous sacred tragedies which have always
found favour in France, and the tradition of which it has been sought to
revive even in our own day. The theatre, like the pulpit, was used as an
engine by the Leaguers, but nothing of much value resulted from this.

[Sidenote: Garnier.]

Although many of the practitioners of this classical tragedy, notably
Jodelle, Grévin, and Jean de la Taille, produced work of interest and
merit, it contributed only one name which can properly be called great
to literary history. This was that of Robert Garnier[207], who brought
the form to the highest perfection of which it was capable in its
earliest state. Garnier was born at La Ferté Bernard in 1545, and died,
apparently in his native province of Maine, in 1601. He was a lawyer of
some distinction, being a member of the Paris bar, then Lieutenant
Criminel at Le Mans, and finally Councillor of State. He was an
immediate disciple and favourite of Ronsard, who has spoken of him in
those terms of magnificent eulogy of which he was liberal, but which
here, if somewhat exaggerated, are by no means altogether misplaced. His
dramatic works, extending to eight plays, were all composed in his
earlier manhood, between 1568 and 1580. There is, however, a wide
difference between the first six plays and the last two. The former,
_Porcie_, _Cornélie_, _Marc-Antoine_, _Hippolyte_, _La Troade_, and
_Antigone_, are all, as their titles show clearly, tragedies of
antiquity closely modelled on Seneca and Euripides, especially Seneca.
The _Cornélie_, it may be observed, was translated into English by Kyd.
They do not differ much in arrangement from each other, or from
Jodelle's _Cléopâtre_. In his two last plays, however, produced in 1580,
much greater power and originality appear. These were _Les Juives_, a
Biblical tragedy on the fate of Zedekiah and Jerusalem, and
_Bradamante_, a romantic tragi-comedy on a subject taken from Ariosto.
The latter was apparently the first of its kind, dramatists having
hitherto confined themselves to classical, contemporary, and Biblical
subjects. There is, moreover, a curious incident connected with it. It
contains no choruses, and in the preface of the published edition the
manager is requested to have the want supplied in case of its being
acted. Here too appears the confidant, a dubious present to the French
theatre, but one of no small importance. The play is a remarkable one.
The mixture of comic with tragic models gives the author much more
liberty, of which he duly avails himself; the scenes are more numerous,
the action more lively and complicated, the interest in every way
greater. Yet it would seem, from the remark made above, that there was
some doubt in the mind of the author whether it would ever be acted. Nor
does it seem to have had much, if any, effect on the general character
of stage plays. These continued to follow the Jodelle model until Hardy
brought in the influence of Spain. Of that model _Les Juives_ is
assuredly the masterpiece. The choruses are of great beauty, admirably
diversified in metre and rhythm, and occasionally all but equalling the
best lyrics of the Pléiade. There is interest in the story, which deals
with the vengeance of Nebuchadnezzar on the Jewish king, and its chief
drawback is its unrelieved gloom. The first act too, which consists of a
monologue by the Prophet (unnamed) relieved only by the chorus, is
justly open to that charge of monotony and absence of action, which is
the great drawback of this class of drama. Subsequently, however, a real
interest is created in the question whether the conqueror will or will
not give up his sanguinary purposes in consequence of the remonstrances
of his general, Nebuzaradan, and the entreaties of Zedekiah's mother and
his own Queen. The stiffness of the dialogue, which is remarkable in
most of the tragedies of the period, is here a good deal softened. The
speeches are still sometimes too long--Garnier was indeed a great
offender in this way, and in his _Hippolyte_ has inflicted an unbroken
monologue of nearly two hundred lines on the hapless spectators. But
very frequently the dialogue is fairly kept up, and sufficiently varied
by the avoidance of the practice of concluding the speeches uniformly at
the end of lines.

[Sidenote: Defects of the Pléiade Tragedy.]

On the whole, however, despite the literary excellence of at least some
of the work composing it, it is impossible to give high rank as drama to
the model of Jodelle. Although the unities were not by any means
followed with the strictness which prevailed afterwards, the caution of
Horace about awkward transactions on the stage was rigidly observed,
and, with the usual illegitimate inference, carried out so as almost to
exclude all action whatever. The personages were generally few, the acts
divided into but a scene or two at most, the set _tirades_ mercilessly
long, and the whole thing, as it would appear to a modern spectator,
dull and spiritless.

[Sidenote: Pléiade Comedy.]

[Sidenote: Larivey.]

The dramatists of the Pléiade school, though they chiefly cultivated
tragedy, did not by any means neglect comedy, their leader, Jodelle,
having, as has been shown, set them the example in both kinds. Their
comedy was, however, for some time a somewhat indeterminate kind of
composition, and did not for the most part show much sign of the
extraordinary excellence which French comedy was to attain in the next
century. They seem to have hesitated between three models, the
indigenous farce, the Italian comedy, which was a graft on the Latin,
and the Latin comedy of Plautus and Terence itself. Yet _Eugène_, as has
been said, is a great deal better as a play than either _Didon_ or
_Cléopâtre_. Its manner was closely imitated in the already-mentioned
comedies of Grévin. The _Reconnue_ of Belleau is a work of merit. Baïf
turned the _Miles Gloriosus_ into French under the title of
_Taillebras_, which was acted with the curious accompaniment of choruses
composed by, among others, Desportes, Belleau, and Ronsard himself. All
these pieces kept the octosyllabic verse which the farce had
consecrated. Afterwards it became fashionable to write comedies in
prose. Jean de la Taille thus gave _Les Corrivaux_, Odet de Turnèbe _Les
Mécontents_, François d'Amboise _Les Napolitaines_. But the chief comic
author of the century, a better playwright than Garnier himself, was
Pierre Larivey, who also wrote in prose[208]. He was born at Troyes
about 1540, and died probably in the second decade of the seventeenth
century. His father was an Italian, of the famous printer family of the
Giunti, and on settling in France he had dubbed himself L'Arrivé, which
soon took the less recognisable form under which the dramatist is known.
Pierre Larivey held a canonry at Troyes, and translated many Italian
books of the most diverse kinds into French. Among these were numerous
comedies, and the genius of the translator for his task in this case
produced what are in effect as original compositions as most plays which
call themselves original. Larivey took the utmost liberties with his
models, adding, dropping, altering, exactly as he pleased, and writing
his adaptations in a style excellent for the purpose. He produced twelve
plays, of which nine are extant, _Le Laquais_, _La Veuve_, _Les
Esprits_, _Le Morfondu_, _Les Jaloux_, _Les Escoliers_, published in
1579, and _Constance_, _Le Fidèle_, _Les Tromperies_, published in 1611.
Each of these has an Italian original. But, as the originals themselves
are frequently derived from classical sources, Larivey very often seems
to be imitating these latter. A nearly complete idea of the character of
his best piece, _Les Esprits_, may be obtained by those who know the
_Aulularia_ and _Andria_, and, on the other hand, the _École des Maris_
and _L'Avare_, for he stands about midway between the classical comedies
of Latin and French. Molière found a good deal of his property in
Larivey, and so did other French comic authors.


[205] Ed. Héricault, Montaiglon, and Rothschild. 2 vols. Paris.

[206] _Ancien Théâtre Français_, vol. iv.

[207] A good modern edition has appeared by Förster. Heilbronn, 1882.

[208] _Ancien Théâtre Français_, vol. vi. vii.



[Sidenote: Prose Writers of the Renaissance.]

It has been pointed out that Rabelais, in his capacity of representative
author of the French Renaissance, exhibits all the characteristics of
that Renaissance--its interest, half-enthusiastic and half-sceptical, in
religious and philosophical questions, its devotion to ancient
literature and learning, and the ardent zest with which it attacked at
once the business and the pleasures of the world. The four most
remarkable of the remaining prose authors of the century illustrate
these characteristics as vividly but less universally. Montaigne indeed
is almost as complete a representative of the entire character for the
last half of the century as Rabelais is of the first. But even in him
one note, the note of sceptical philosophy, is more dominant than any to
be found in Rabelais. In the same way Calvin was the first, if not the
most distinguished, of theologians who wrote modern French prose; Amyot
the representative of erudition; and Brantôme of that attention to
mundane business and pleasure which produced so many admirable
memoir-writers. Round each of the four, but especially round Amyot and
Brantôme, numerous figures, sometimes of hardly less magnitude, have to
be grouped. Chronological reasons, and the convenience of subdividing
the subject, make it, however, advisable to take Calvin and Amyot first,
leaving the authors of the _Essais_ and the _Dames Galantes_ with their
train for another chapter.

[Sidenote: Calvin.]

Jean Calvin[209] was born in 1509, at Noyon, in Picardy, where his
father held the post of procurator-fiscal to the bishop. He took orders
very early, and obtained some preferment. Before long, by a transition
very usual in that age, he exchanged divinity for law; but his interest
was still in the former study, and he eagerly embraced the Reformed
doctrines. Like other French reformers, he was at first rewarded by the
favour of Francis and his sister Marguerite, but the tide soon turned,
and he left France in 1534 for Basle. It is said that it was not till
then that he learnt Hebrew. At Basle his _Institution_ was published.
After a year or two he went to Italy, where he was received by the
Duchess of Ferrara, Renée of France, the steadiest of all the royal
patrons of the French reformers. At last he established himself at
Geneva, where, as is well known, he succeeded in setting up a kind of
theocratic tyranny, which was for centuries the model and pattern of his
faithful followers the Scotch Presbyterians. He was once banished, but
recalled, and exercised his sway for about a quarter of a century. Into
the too famous and much argued matters of his relations with Servetus,
his intrigues with the French inquisitors to establish a kind of
_Zollverein_ of persecution and the like, there is no need to enter
here. He died in 1564. Calvin's greatest work in literature, as in
theology, is the _Institution of the Christian Religion_, which, as has
been said, was published at Basle in 1536. It was written in Latin, but
four years later was republished in French, the author himself being the
translator. The minor works of Calvin, both in Latin and French, are
very numerous, but from the point of view of literary history they may
be neglected, except certain satirical pamphlets wherein the writer
displayed a considerable command of vigorous, if occasionally clumsy,
satire and invective. The scurrility with which the debates of the
Reformation were carried on on both sides is but too well known. Calvin
was not so guilty in this respect as Luther, but he must bear a
considerable portion of the blame. What is really valuable in Calvin's
satiric style may be found more worthily represented in the less
abstract passages of the _Institution_, notably the Address to the King.

The _Institution_ itself is beyond all question the first serious work
of great literary merit, not historical, in the history of French prose.
It is strongly Latinised in form and construction, as might indeed be
expected considering the circumstances of its production. But the point
in which it differs from preceding works in which the classical
influence is prominent, is that the author no longer attempts to give
his classical colour by means of wholesale importations of terms. The
vocabulary, though rich and varied, is still in the main genuine French,
and the Latinism is more observable in occasional constructions and in
the architecture of the clauses than in the mere selection of words.
This clause-architecture was a matter of the last importance, for it was
exactly in this respect that French, like most of the vernacular
tongues, was deficient. The entirely artless and mainly conversational
array of the sentence which, out of verse, had hitherto been common,
served for narrative well enough, but not at all for argument or
discussion. Calvin threw his French clauses into the mould in which his
Latin had been cast, and without unduly stiffening them produced a
regularity of form which was entirely novel. Even when his sentences are
of considerable length, there is clearness and simplicity in them, which
in some languages, English for instance, was not generally reached in
prose till much later. It is remarkable, too, that the besetting sin of
serious French prose, its tendency to the declamatory, is well kept
under by Calvin. Next to the graceful stateliness of his phrase, its
extreme sobriety, not rejecting legitimate ornament, but seldom or never
trespassing into the rhetorical, has to be observed. Considering that
the whole of it was written before the author was seven-and-twenty, it
is perhaps the most remarkable work of its particular kind to be
anywhere found--the merits being those of full maturity and elaborate
preparation rather than of youthful exuberance. The book consists of
four parts; the first on God, the second on the Atonement, or rather on
the Mediatorial Office of Christ, the third on the results of that
Office, the fourth on Church Government. Its end, it need hardly be
said, is double--the establishment in the most rigorous form of the
doctrine of predestination and original sin, and the destruction of the
sacramental and sacerdotal doctrines of the Catholic Church.

[Sidenote: Minor Reformers and Controversialists.]

Despite the fervid interest taken in religious disputation and the
masterly example which Calvin had set both to friends and foes, theology
proper did not contribute very much of value to literature during the
period. Beza wrote chiefly in Latin, his _Histoire des Églises
Réformées_ being the chief exception. Pierre Viret, a Swiss by birth,
who passed the last twenty years of his life at various towns in the
south of France as a preacher and theological teacher, wrote a
considerable number of treatises, both serious and satirical. The titles
of some of the latter, _L'Alchimie du Purgatoire_, _La Cosmographie
Infernale_, etc., are characteristic of the time. But Viret's literary
merit was not remarkable. This kind of theological pasquinading was in
great favour throughout the period, and authors of very various merit,
such as Marnix de Sainte Aldegonde, Doré, Claude de Saintes, Arthus
Désiré, and others, contributed plentifully to it. But the interest of
their work is for the most part historical and antiquarian only. The
title of 'Protestant Rabelais' has been absurdly given to Marnix. It is
only so far deserved that the scurril language and gross images which
with the master were but accessories, were with the pupil the main
point. In the latter part of the century, after the quieting of the
troubles of the League, two more serious disputants arose, each of
considerable literary eminence. These were on the Protestant side,
Philippe de Mornay, better known as Duplessis-Mornay, who distinguished
himself equally as a soldier, a diplomatist, and a man of letters, and
the still more famous Cardinal Du Perron, a converted Calvinist, who was
supposed to be the most expert controversialist of a time which was
nothing if not controversial. The chief theological work of
Duplessis-Mornay was his _Traité de la Vérité de la Religion
Chrétienne_. The chief written theological work of Du Perron was a
_Traité du Sacrement de l'Euchariste_, in reply to a work on the same
subject by Mornay.

[Sidenote: Preachers of the League.]

Between the controversies of the earlier part of the century and those
of the latter, preaching, if not dogmatic theology, held an important
place because of its political bearing. The pulpit style of the
sixteenth century was for the most part an aggravation of that (already
described) of the fifteenth, the acrimony of sectarian and factious
partisanship leading the preachers to indulge in every kind of verbal
excess. During the League the partisans of that organisation, especially
in Paris, were perpetually excited against Henri III. and his successor
by the most atrocious pulpit diatribes, the chief artists in which were
Boucher, Rose, Launay, Feuardent, and Génébrard. The literary value of
these furious outpourings however is very small. After their cessation a
reaction set in, and for some time before the splendid period of pulpit
eloquence, which lasted from St. Francis de Sales to Massillon, the
general style of French homiletics was dull and laboured.

[Sidenote: Amyot.]

Jacques Amyot[210] was born at Melun in 1513, and belonged to the lowest
class. He was educated as a servitor at the famous Collège de Navarre,
and took his degree in arts at the age of nineteen. He then held various
tutorships and attracted the notice of Marguerite, Queen of Navarre, the
constant patroness of men of letters, who gave him a Readership at
Bourges. After some years of University teaching in the classics, he
began his series of translations with the _Theagenes and Chariclea_ in
1546. This was three years in advance of Du Bellay's manifesto, and
though not a few translations had already appeared, none had even
approached Amyot's in elegance. As usual at the time his literary
reputation was rewarded by Church preferment and employment in the
diplomatic service. He was also made tutor to Charles IX. and Henri of
Anjou. His elder pupil, when he came to the throne, made him, first,
Grand Almoner of France, and then Bishop of Auxerre, while Henri III.
added the honour of a commandership in the order of the Holy Ghost. For
a time, in the midst of the troubles of the League, Amyot was driven
from his palace, but he returned and died, at the full age of fourscore,
in 1594.

Besides the work of Heliodorus, Amyot translated Diodorus Siculus
(1554), _Daphnis and Chloe_, Plutarch's _Lives_ (1559), and Plutarch's
_Morals_ (1574). It may seem at first sight that his selection of
authors to translate was somewhat peculiar. It was however, either by
accident or design, singularly well suited to the age which he
addressed. The positive merit of Heliodorus, and still more of Longus,
is certainly greater than is usually admitted nowadays. But for that
time they were peculiarly suited (and especially Longus) by their
combination of romantic and adventurous description with graceful
pictures of nature and amatory interludes. Plutarch, on the other hand,
expressed, more than any other author, the practical and moralising
spirit which accompanied this taste for romance. Montaigne confessed
that he could not do without Plutarch, and it may be doubted whether any
other single author of antiquity, after the Ciceronian mania was over,
exercised such an influence as Plutarch, through Amyot, North, and
Shakespeare (a direct succession of channels), upon France and England.

The merit of the translator had not a little to do with the success of
the books. Here is the testimony of the greatest in a literary sense of
Amyot's readers. 'I give,' says Montaigne, 'and I think I am right in
doing so, the palm to Jacques Amyot over all French writers, not only
for the simplicity and purity of his vocabulary, in which he surpasses
all others, nor for his industry in so long a task, nor for the depth of
his learning which has enabled him to expound so happily a writer so
thorny and crabbed. I am above all grateful to him for having selected
and chosen a book so worthy and so suitable as a present to his country.
We dunces were lost had not this book plucked us out of the mire. Thanks
to it, we dare to speak and to write. By it ladies are in a position to
give lessons to schoolmasters. It is our very breviary.' This praise,
which is not exaggerated in itself, and still less when taken as an
expression of the feeling of the time, refers of course to the
'Plutarch,' and in estimating it it is necessary to take account of
Montaigne's especial affection for the author translated. But if we take
in the lighter work, and especially the _Daphnis and Chloe_, Amyot will
stand higher, not lower. His merit is not so much that he has known how
to adjust himself and his style to two very different authors, but that
in rendering both those authors he has written French of a most original
model and of the greatest excellence. The common fault of translation,
the insensible adoption of a foreign idiom--especially difficult to
avoid at a time when no classical standards or models of the tongue used
by the translator exist--is here almost entirely overcome. The style of
Amyot, who had little before him, if Calvin and Rabelais be excepted,
but the clumsy examples of the _rhétoriqueur_ school, is, as Montaigne
justly says, perfectly simple and pure; and so little is it tinged
either with archaism or with classicism that the seventeenth century
itself, unjust as it was for the most part towards its predecessors,
acknowledged its merit.

[Sidenote: Minor Translators.]

[Sidenote: Dolet.]

Although Amyot was by far the most considerable of the French
translators of the sixteenth century, he was not by any means the first.
Claude de Seyssel translated many Greek authors, Pierre Saliat produced
a version of Herodotus, Lefèvre d'Étaples was the author of the first
complete French translation of the Bible, and a cluster of learned
writers, some of them remarkable for other work, such as Bonaventure des
Périers, devoted themselves to Plato. Among these latter there is one
who was in many ways a typical representative of the time. Étienne
Dolet[211] was born at Orleans in 1509, lived a stormy life diversified
by many quarrels, literary and theological, did much service to
literature both in Latin and French, and, falling out with the powers
that were, was burnt (having first been, as a matter of grace and in
consequence of a previous recantation, hanged) in the Place Maubert, at
Paris, on his birthday, August 3, 1554. Dolet had written many Latin
speeches and tractates in the Ciceronian style--that of a curious
section of humanists who entertained an exclusive and exaggerated
devotion to Cicero. Then, becoming himself a master-printer, he wrote
several small treatises on French grammar, some poems, a short history
of Francis the First, and finally, a translation of the Platonic or
Pseudo-Platonic _Axiochus_, which was the proximate cause of his death.
He was one of the earliest of the French humanist students to devote
himself to the vernacular, and, though his short and troubled life did
not enable him to perfect his French style, he is very interesting as a
specimen. His friendship with Marot and Rabelais had in each case an
unhappy end. In the latter this was due to a pirated edition of
_Pantagruel_ and _Gargantua_, which reproduced expressions that
Rabelais, in the rising storm of persecution, had been anxious to
modify. As a Latin scholar Dolet was accurate and sound. His
translations suffer somewhat from the want of a sufficiently definite
and flexible French style, but the striving after such a style is
apparent in them.

Dolet and the other persons just mentioned had translated for the most
part prose into prose. Sanxon, Hugues Salel, Lazare de Baïf, Sibilet,
and others, translated verse into verse; but the theory of French
versification had not as yet been sufficiently studied to make the
attempt really profitable. After the innovations of the Pléiade many of
Ronsard's followers bent themselves to the same task with a better
equipment and with more success. Almost all the poets mentioned
elsewhere executed translations of more or less merit.

[Sidenote: Fauchet.]

From a literary point of view, however, the exercises of the century, in
what may be called applied scholarship, were, leaving out of sight for
the moment Amyot's work, and also that, presently to be mentioned, of
Herberay, of greater merit than its pure translations. All the mediaeval
legends, assigning classical or semi-classical origins to the
populations of France, were resumed and amplified by Jean Lemaire de
Belges, in the first years of the century, in his _Illustrations des
Gaules_. Lemaire belongs, as has been said elsewhere, for the most part
to the earlier school of the Rhétoriqueurs, but his literary power was
considerable. The style of research, mingling as it did antiquarian and
historical elements with a strong infusion of what was purely literary,
was illustrated during the period by three persons who deserve special
mention. Claude Fauchet is a name of great importance in French literary
history. So long as mediaeval literature actually flourished we should
expect to find, and we do find, no attention paid to its history and
development. Fauchet was the first person, so far as is known, who
devoted himself to something like a critical examination of its
results; and as many of the materials which he had at his disposal have
perished, his work, with all its drawbacks, is still very valuable. His
_Antiquités Gauloises et Françoises_ are purely historical, but display
a sound spirit of criticism. His _Recueil de l'Origine de la Langue et
Poésie Françoise, Ryme et Romans, plus les Noms et Sommaires des
Oeuvres de CXXVII Poètes François vivans avant l'an MCCC_, is a work
for its period (1581) almost unique. Philologically, of course, Fauchet
is far from infallible, as, for instance, in his theory, obviously
indefensible, that French is a cross between the tongues of the Gauls
and the Romans. But his 'Noms et Sommaires' are actually taken from the
study of manuscripts; and, as the works of the Trouvères had, with few
exceptions, long dropped out of sight, except in late fifteenth-century
prose versions, the attempt to make them known was as salutary as it was

[Sidenote: Pasquier.]

Fauchet unfortunately was not a good writer. This cannot be said of his
principal rival, or rather successor, Étienne Pasquier. Pasquier was
born at Paris in 1529, and early devoted himself to legal studies, which
he pursued all through his life. His most famous performance as an
advocate was his speech for the University of Paris against the Jesuits
in 1565. He afterwards took a vigorous part in the Royalist polemic
against the League. He did not die till 1615. His works, as yet
unpublished in a complete form, are in modern times accessible chiefly
in the selection of M. Léon Feugère[212]. They are voluminous, but by
far the most important (with the exception perhaps of the valuable
_Letters_) is the _Recherches de la France_. This is a somewhat
desultory but very interesting collection of remarks on politics,
history, social changes, and last, not least, literature. To us the most
attractive part of Pasquier's literary history is the account he gives
of the great poetical and literary movement of his own day, the
revolution of the Pléiade, or, as he describes it picturesquely, 'De la
Grande Flotte de Poètes que produisit le Règne du Roi Henry Deuxième.'
But his notes on the previous history of literature in France, though
necessarily based on somewhat imperfect knowledge, are full of
interest, and not destitute of instruction, such, for instance, as his
chapters on the farce of _Pathelin_, on Provençal poetry, on the formal
measures of the fourteenth century, etc. Pasquier's style is very
delightful. Despite his erudition, and even what may be called his
Ronsardising, he does not aim at the new severity and classicism. But
his manner is exceedingly picturesque, perfectly clear, and
distinguished by a sort of gossiping ingenuousness without any lack of
dignity, the secret of which the sixteenth and early seventeenth
centuries in France and England seem to have possessed and carried off
with them.

[Sidenote: Henri Estienne.]

The third of three not dissimilar names is that of Henri Estienne. His
remarkable _Apologie pour Hérodote_, like not a few other works of the
same kind, would be less remarkable if it were stripped of borrowed
plumes; but his three treatises on French linguistics, the _Traité de la
Conformité du Français avec le Grec_, the _Précellence de la Langue
Française_, and the _Nouveaux Dialogues de Langage Français Italianisé_,
would give him a considerable place in the history of French literature
if he had written no _Apologie_ and published no _Thesaurus_. All three
works are more or less directed against the Italianising mania of the

[Sidenote: Herberay.]

Here, perhaps, better than elsewhere, may be mentioned the name of one
of the best, if not the best, purely narrative writer of French prose
during the century, Herberay des Essarts. It is to Herberay that the
famous romance of _Amadis of Gaul_ owes most of its fame. According to
the most probable story, the _Amadis_ was originally translated by the
Spaniard Montalvo from a lost Portuguese original of the fourteenth
century. There is absolutely no trace of a French original, the
existence of which has been assumed by French critics. In form the
_Amadis_ is a long prose Roman d'Aventures, distinguished only from its
French companions and predecessors by a somewhat higher strain of
romantic sentiment, and by a greater abundance of giants, dwarfs,
witches, and other condiments, which, even in its most luxuriant day,
the simpler and more academic French taste had known how to do without,
or at most, to apply moderately. It had been continued in the Spanish by
more than one author, and was a very voluminous work when, in 1540,
Herberay undertook to give a French version of it. He, in his turn, had
continuators, but none who equalled his popularity or power. Readers of
the Spanish complain that Herberay has not been a faithful translator,
and, in particular, that he has been guilty of no few anachronisms. He
probably troubled himself very little about exact fidelity or strict
local and temporal colour. But he ranks, in order of time, second only
to Calvin in the production of a clear, elegant, and scholarly French
prose style. The book became immensely popular. It is said that it was
the usual reading book for foreign students of French for a considerable
period, and it was highly thought of by the best critics (such as
Pasquier) of its own and the next generation. It had moreover a great
influence on what came after it. To no single book can be so clearly
traced the heroic romances of the early seventeenth century.

[Sidenote: Palissy.]

It may seem somewhat premature to speak of scientific writers in the
sixteenth century. Yet there are three who usually and deservedly hold a
place in French literary history, and who cannot be conveniently classed
under any other head. There are few better known names of the time than
Bernard Palissy. His famous enamels are no doubt partly the cause of
this, but other artists as great or greater are not nearly so living to
us as this maker of pottery. He was born in or about 1510, at a village,
Chapelle Broin, near Agen, and he died in the Bastile, in 1589, a
prisoner for his Protestantism. Catherine de Medicis had saved him from
the massacre of St. Bartholomew. His long life was occupied mainly in
art and scientific researches, partly also in lecturing on natural
history and physics, and in writing accounts of his investigations,
which are not very voluminous, but which possess an extraordinary
vividness of style and description. His treatise on pottery, the _Art de
la Terre_, contains the passage which has become classical, describing
his desperate efforts to discover the secret of the Italian enamellers.
He also wrote a _Recepte véritable par laquelle tous les hommes de la
France pourront apprendre à multiplier et à augmenter leurs Trésors_,
and, some ten years before his death, a _Discours admirable de la Nature
des Eaux et Fontaines_. His literary work is an almost unique mixture of
research with genuine literary fancy.

[Sidenote: Paré.]

Ambroise Paré, also a famous name, was born about the same time as
Palissy, and died the year after him. A freethinker in his way, he
escaped all temptation to embrace the dangerous heresy which was so
fatal, or, at least, so inconvenient, to many other men of science and
letters, and for the last forty years of his life he was court-surgeon.
His literary work is not inconsiderable in amount, consisting, as might
be expected, chiefly of professional treatises. The most interesting of
his books, however, from a general point of view, and, as it happens,
also by far the best written, is his _Apologie et Voyages_, a kind of
autobiography which contains a large collection of anecdotes and
details, not unimportant for the history of the time, as well as of much
personal interest. The style of this book is often vivid and
picturesque, as well as clear and precise.

[Sidenote: Olivier de Serres.]

It was fitting that agriculture, which is the staple industry of France,
should contribute to her literature at this period--the most genuine and
exuberant period of its history, if not that which produced the most
minutely finished work. The _Théâtre de l'Agriculture et du Ménage des
Champs_ of Olivier de Serres was published in the last year of the
century. The author was a native of the town of Villeneuve du Berg, in
the present department of Ardèche. He was a Protestant and a great
favourite of Henri IV., to whom he was useful in developing Sully's
plans of internal economy. The _Théâtre de l'Agriculture_ was long the
classic book on the subject, and the author has been honoured, in quite
recent times, by statues and other demonstrations. Like most books of
the kind, it is much overlaid with erudition, but this only adds to its
picturesqueness; and, as the author's precepts were founded on a life's
experience of his subject, it certainly cannot be reproached with a want
of practical knowledge and aim.

Not a few other authors would require notice, if space permitted, in
this class of scientific and erudite authors, particularly in the class
of linguistics and literature. Such is Geoffroy Tory, a printer,
grammarian, and prose-writer of merit in the early part of the century,
who anticipated Rabelais in his protest against the indiscriminate
Latinisation of the later Rhétoriqueurs. Not a few other writers, such
as Pelletier and Fontaine, busied themselves during the period with
grammar and prosody; while towards the close of it, the first French
bibliographers of eminence, La Croix du Maine, and Du Verdier, made
their appearance. But the works of all these, as rather ancillary to
literature than actually literary, must here be passed over.


[209] Cauvin or Chauvin is the more correct form, but the Latinised
Calvinus made Calvin more usual. Calvin's works are voluminous. The
_Institution_ was published in convenient shape at Paris in 1859.

[210] Most of Amyot is accessible only in the old editions. A beautiful
edition of the _Daphnis and Chloe_ has been published by L. Glady.
London, 1878.

[211] Dolet's works are not easily to be found except in public
libraries. The standard book on him is that of Mr. R. C. Christie
(London, 1880), one of the best monographs on French literary history to
be found in any language.

[212] 2 vols. Paris, 1849.



[Sidenote: Disenchantment of the late Renaissance.]

A period of enthusiasm passes naturally and almost necessarily into one
of scepticism, and it is in no way surprising that the prominent
literary figure of the second half of the sixteenth century in France
should have taken for his motto rather 'Que sais-je?' than, like
Rabelais, 'Sursum Corda.' The early hopes of the Renaissance had been
curiously disappointed. The Reformation had resulted not merely in cruel
and destructive civil war, but in the formation, in too many cases, of a
Protestantism not less imperious and far more illiberal than the
Catholicism against which it protested. The economic and social effects
of the discovery of the New World had been equally discouraging, and
even the recovery of classical learning had produced a race of pedants
almost as trifling as the last doting defenders of scholasticism. The
evils of the civil state of France, moreover, drove nearly all the best
men into the sect of _Politiques_, or Trimmers, who avowedly regarded
high questions of truth and faith as subordinate to a politic
opportunism. The age had not lost its power of enjoyment of affairs and
of pleasure, but its appetite for higher things was somewhat blunted. In
this state of matters a few persons, of whom Montaigne was incomparably
the most important, philosophised sceptically about life, and a great
many, of whom Brantôme is the most typical, took pleasure in describing
the ways and acts of an aristocracy which combined extraordinary luxury
and corruption with great love of wit, singular intellectual ability,
and a keen interest in war and business.

[Sidenote: Montaigne.]

Michel Eyquem, Sieur de Montaigne[213], was born, 'between eleven and
twelve o'clock of the day' (the detail is characteristic), on the 28th
of February, 1533, at the _château_ from which he derived his name, and
which he has made illustrious. Montaigne is situated in the old province
of Perigord, or, according to modern nomenclature, in the department of
Dordogne and the arrondissement of Bergerac. It is at no great distance
from Bordeaux. The family was long believed from a phrase of Montaigne's
own to have been of English extraction, introduced during the long
tenure of Aquitaine by our sovereigns. But recent and industrious
researches have shown that it may with greater probability have been of
local origin and yeoman _status_. Pierre Eyquem, the father, had filled
many important municipal offices at Bordeaux. Michel was his third son
among nine children, but by the death of his elder brothers he inherited
the family estate. He was educated early, and after the manner of a time
when education was a subject on which almost all men of independent
thought rode hobbies. Latin he learnt by conversation at a very early
age, Greek as a kind of amusement. At the mature age of six he was
placed at the Collège de Guyenne in Bordeaux, not the least famous of
the famous schools of the time, for there it was that Buchanan, Muretus,
and Guérente, by the Latin plays which they wrote for their scholars to
act, introduced the Senecan drama into France and showed the way to the
French tragedy of the Pléiade. Seven years of study completed
Montaigne's school education at the age of thirteen, when nowadays boys
quit their preparatory cradles. He was set to work at law, but little
positive is known of him for many years. In 1554, being then twenty-one,
he was made counsellor in the Bordeaux _Parlement_, and in 1566 he
married Françoise de la Chassaigne, daughter of one of his colleagues.
Except casual references in the _Essays_, which are seldom precise, all
we know of him during these years is his friendship with Étienne de la
Boëtie. He almost certainly served one or more campaigns; but the most
positive thing that can be said of his middle life is that, according to
an existing inscription of his own, he finally retired, in 1571, on his
thirty-eighth birthday, to the _château_ which had become his by his
father's death two years previously. He had already translated the
_Theologia Naturalis_ of Raymond de Sebonde. In the year of his
retirement he edited the works of La Boëtie. But he now began a much
more important task. The first two books of the _Essais_ appeared in
1580; and immediately afterwards Montaigne, who suffered from severe
internal disorders, undertook a long journey into Italy, Switzerland,
and Germany, which occupied nearly a year and a-half. While sojourning
at the baths of Lucca, he received the news of his appointment as mayor
of Bordeaux, and hastened home. In 1588 he published the third Book of
the _Essays_, and had troubles with the Leaguers in Paris. Four years
afterwards, on the 13th September, 1592, he died of quinsy. Although
Montaigne's municipal and legal appointments at Bordeaux are all that we
know him to have enjoyed, he is styled 'gentleman in ordinary to the
king,' and letters extant from and to Charles IX., Henri III., and Henri
IV., show him to have enjoyed a considerable social as well as literary
position. He was a knight of the Order of St. Michael. By his wife he
had several children, but all died young, except one daughter, who
survived him and left offspring. His adopted daughter, however,
Mademoiselle de Gournay, a celebrated character of the next age, and the
first editor of his complete works after his death, is better known.

A complete abstract of Montaigne's work cannot be here attempted, and
indeed no such thing is possible, because the work itself is absolutely
destitute of general plan and exhibits no unity but a unity of spirit
and treatment. Whether Montaigne himself invented the famous title
_Essays_ or not, is a matter of the very smallest importance. It is
certain that he was the first to give the word its modern meaning,
though he dealt with his subjects in a spirit of audacious
desultoriness, which many of his successors have endeavoured to imitate,
but which few have imitated successfully. His nominal subject is, as a
rule, merely a starting-point, or at the most a text. He allows himself
to be diverted from it by any game which crosses his path, and diverges
as readily from his new direction. Abundant citation from the classics
is one of his chief characteristics; but the two main points which
differentiate him are, first, the audacious egotism and frankness with
which he discourses of his private affairs and exhibits himself in
undress; secondly, the flavour of subtle scepticism which he diffuses
over his whole work. Both these are susceptible of a good deal of
misconstruction, and both no doubt have been a good deal misconstrued.
His egotism, like most egotism, is a compound of frankness and
affectation, and its sincerity is not, as an attraction, equal to the
easy garrulity for which it affords an occasion of display. His
scepticism, however, is altogether _sui generis_. It is not exuberant,
like that of Rabelais, nor sneering, like that of Voltaire, nor
despairing, like that of Pascal, nor merely inquisitive and scholarly,
like that of Bayle. There is no reason for disbelieving Montaigne's
sincere and conscious orthodoxy in the ecclesiastical sense. But his own
temperament, assisted no doubt by the political and ecclesiastical
circumstances already described, by indifferent bodily health, and by
the period, if not exactly of excess, at any rate of free living, in his
younger days, to which he so constantly alludes, had produced in him a
general feeling that the _pros_ and _cons_ of different opinions and
actions balance each other more evenly than is generally thought. He
looks on life with a kind of ironical enjoyment, and the three books of
his _Essays_ might be described as a vast gallery of pictures
illustrating the results of his contemplations.

There are some considerable differences between the earlier and later
_Essays_, one of the most obvious of which concerns the point of length.
Thus the first book consists of fifty-seven essays, occupying rather
more than 500 pages[214], or an average of less than ten pages each. The
second (exclusive of the long 'Apologie de Raymond Sebonde,' which
occupies 300 pages by itself) contains thirty-six essays, of nearly 500
pages in all, or about twelve pages each. These books were published
together, and may be presumed to have been written more or less at the
same time. But the third and last book, though it contains full 550
pages, has only thirteen essays, which thus average more than forty
pages each, though their length is very unequal. Montaigne had, no
doubt, found that his pillar-to-post method of discourse was
sufficiently attractive to make fresh starting-points and definite
titles unnecessary; thus in the third book, his subjects (at least his
professed subjects) are sometimes much wider, and sometimes much more
whimsical, than in the two first. Oedipus himself could hardly divine
the actual subject of the essay 'Sur des Vers de Virgile,' or guess that
a paper 'Sur les Coches' would in reality busy itself with the question
what virtues are most proper to a sovereign. On the other hand, such
large titles as 'De la Vanité de l'Expérience,' etc. give room for
almost any and every excursion. All these are in the last book; the
shorter essays of the two first for the most part deal more definitely
with their nominal subjects, which are most frequently moral brocards:
such as 'Le Profit de l'Un est Dommage de l'Autre,' 'Par Divers Moyens
on arrive à Pareille Fin,' etc.

In a literary history, however, of the scale and plan of this present,
the question of Montaigne's subjects and sentiments, interesting as it
is, must not be allowed to obscure the question of the expression which
he gave to these sentiments. His book is of the greatest importance in
the history of French style, of an importance indeed which has been by
no means invariably recognised by French literary historians themselves.
It must be remembered that he at once attained, and never lost, an
immense popularity. Thus the comparative oblivion which, owing to the
reforms of the early seventeenth century and the brilliant period of
production which followed them, overtook most of the men of the
Renaissance, did not touch Montaigne. He, with Rabelais, remained a well
of undefiled French, which all the artificial filtering of Malherbe and
Boileau could not deprive of its refreshing and fertilising power.
Writing, too, at a period subsequent, instead of anterior to the
innovations of the Pléiade, Montaigne was able to incorporate, and thus
to save, not a few of the neologisms which, valuable as they were, the
purists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries neglected. Many
words which his immediate contemporaries, and still more his successors,
condemned, have made good their footing in the language, owing beyond
all doubt to his influence. His style, too, was valuable for something
else besides its vocabulary. It entered so seldom into the plan of
Rabelais to write in any other than a burlesque tone, that he was rarely
able to display his own incomparable faculty of writing ordinary French,
pure, vigorous, graceful, and flexible at once. The tale-tellers and
memoir-writers of the time matured an excellent narrative style, but one
less suited for other forms of writing. The theologians often obeyed the
Latinising influence too implicitly. But Montaigne, with his wide
variety of subject, required and wrought out for himself a corresponding
variety of style. His very discursiveness and the constant flow of new
thoughts that welled up in him helped him to avoid the great curse of
all the vulgar tongues in the Renaissance--the long jointed sentence;
the easy colloquial manner at which he aimed reflected itself in a style
less familiar indeed than avowed burlesque, but at the same time more
familiar than any writer had before used in treating of similar
subjects. Yet no one was more capable than Montaigne, on the rare
occasions when he judged it proper, of showing his mastery of sustained
and lofty eloquence. The often-quoted passage in which he rebukes the
vanity of man (who, without letters patent or privilege, assumes to
himself the honour of being the only created being cognisant of the
secret of the universe) yields to nothing that had been written or was
to be written for many years, fertile as the sixteenth and early
seventeenth centuries were in both its characteristics, solemnity and
dignity of expression. That a book which was thus rich in vocabulary,
richer still in idiosyncrasy of expression, gracefully familiar in
general style, and admirably eloquent in occasional passages, should at
once become popular, and should remain so, could not be without a happy
effect on the general standard of literary taste and the general
acquaintance with the capabilities of the French language. That
Montaigne himself was a sound critical judge and not merely a lucky
practitioner of style, may be judged from his singling out Amyot as the
great master of it among his own immediate predecessors. In so far,
indeed, as prose style goes, master and scholar must undoubtedly take
rank at the head of all the writers of the century when bulk and variety
of examples are taken into account.

[Sidenote: Charron.]

Although, as has been already noted, Montaigne has many sides, his most
striking peculiarity may be said to be the mixture of philosophical
speculation, especially on ethical and political topics, with attention
to the historical side of human life both in the past and in the
present. He was, however, by no means the only teacher of ethics and
political philosophy in his century. His own mantle was taken up, or
attempted to be taken up, by Pierre Charron[215]. Born at Paris in 1541,
he was thoroughly educated; studied law, in which he proceeded to a
doctor's degree, and was called to the Paris bar, but then suddenly
entered the Church, and became renowned as a preacher. He even thought
of embracing the monastic life--a waste of ability which the
ecclesiastical authorities, conscious of their need of eloquent
advocates, did not permit. Charron belonged rather to the moderate or
_politique_ party than to the fanatics of Catholicism, and he directly
attacked the League in his _Discours Chrétiens_, published in 1589. Five
years later appeared a regular theological treatise entitled _Les Trois
Vérités_, affirming, first, the unity of God, and consequently of
orthodox religion; secondly, the sole authority of Christianity among
religions; thirdly, the sole authority of Catholicism among Christian
churches and sects. He held various preferments, and was a member of the
special synod held to admit Henri IV. to the Roman communion. The only
work by which he is generally remembered, the treatise _De la Sagesse_,
was published in 1601. Charron died two years later, after preparing a
second and somewhat altered edition of the book. Charron was a personal
friend of Montaigne, was undoubtedly his disciple, and borrowed largely,
and in many cases verbally, from the _Essais_. His book, however, is far
inferior both in style and matter to his master's, and Pope's praise of
'more wise Charron' can be due only to the fact that it is much more
definitely sceptical. In curious contrast to its author's dogmatically
theological treatise, _De la Sagesse_ goes to prove that all religions
are more or less of human origin, and that they are all indebted one to
the other. The casuistry of the Renaissance on these points was,
however, peculiar; and it has been supposed, with great show of reason,
that Charron regarded orthodoxy as a valuable and necessary condition
for the common run of men, while the elect would prefer a refined

[Sidenote: Du Vair.]

These sceptical opinions were by no means the invention of Montaigne;
they were part of the new learning grafted by the study of the classics
on the thought of the middle ages, and had been long anticipated, not
merely in Italy but in France itself. The poet and tale-teller,
Bonaventure des Périers, had, as has been said, almost directly
satirised Christianity in the _Cymbalum Mundi_, which created so great a
scandal. On the other hand, Guillaume du Vair, a lawyer and speaker of
eminence, sought, by combining Stoicism and Christianity, to oppose this
sceptical tendency. Du Vair was a writer of great merit, who exactly
reversed the course of Charron, beginning with theology and ending with
law, though he died in double harness, as keeper of the Seals and bishop
of Lisieux. His moral works[216] were numerous: _Sainte Philosophie_,
_De la Philosophie des Stoiques_, _De la Constance et Consolation des
Calamités Publiques_. He translated, not merely Epictetus, which may be
regarded as part of his ethical work, but numerous speeches of the Greek
and Latin orators. He was himself a great speaker, and his best work is
his _Discours sur la Loi Salique_, which contributed powerfully to the
overthrow of the project for recognising the Infanta as Queen of France.
He also wrote a regular treatise on French oratory. The style of Du Vair
is modelled with some closeness on his classical patterns, but without
any trace of pedantry.

[Sidenote: Bodin and other Political Writers.]

A greater name than Du Vair's in purely philosophical politics is that
of Jean Bodin[217], the author of the only work of great excellence on
the science of politics before the eighteenth century. Bodin was born at
Angers in 1530, became a lawyer, was king's procureur at Laon, and died
there in 1596. His great work, entitled after Plato _La République_,
appeared in 1578. It was first published in French, but afterwards
enlarged and reissued by the author in Latin. Bodin follows both Plato
and Aristotle to some extent, but especially Aristotle, in his approach
and treatment of his subject. But, unlike his masters, Bodin declares
for absolute monarchy, of course wisely and temperately administered.
The general literary sentiment was perhaps the other way. The affection
of Montaigne, and a certain fertility of rhetorical commonplace which
has always seduced Frenchmen in political matters, have given undue
reputation to the _Contre-un_ or _Discours de la Servitude volontaire_
of Étienne de la Boëtie[218]. In reality it is but a schoolboy theme,
recalling the silly chatter about Harmodius and Brutus which was popular
at the time of the Revolution. Many other political works were published
in the course of the religious wars, but having been for the most part
written in Latin, or translated by others than their authors, they do
not concern us. The excellent Michel de l'Hospital, however, published
many speeches, letters, and pamphlets on the side of conciliation, for
the most part better intended than written; and the famous Protestants
La Noue and Duplessis-Mornay were frequent writers on political

[Sidenote: Brantôme.]

The complement and counterpart of this moralising on human business and
pleasure is necessarily to be found in chronicles of that business and
that pleasure as actually pursued. In these the sixteenth century is
extraordinarily rich. Correspondence had hardly yet attained the
importance in French literature which it afterwards acquired, but
professed history and, still more, personal memoirs were largely
written. The name of Brantôme[219] has been chosen as the central and
representative name of this section of writers, because he is on the
whole the most original and certainly the most famous of them. His work,
moreover, has more than one point of resemblance to that of the great
contemporary author with whom he is linked at the head of this chapter.
Brantôme neither wrote actual history nor directly personal memoirs. His
work rather consists of desultory biographical essays, forming a curious
pendant to the desultory moral essays of Montaigne. But around him rank
many writers, some historians pure and simple, some memoir-writers pure
and simple, of whom not a few approach him in literary genius, and
surpass him in correctness and finish of style, while almost all exceed
him in whatever advantage may be derived from uniformity of plan, and
from regard to the decencies of literature.

Pierre de Bourdeilles (who derived the name by which he is, and indeed
was during his lifetime, generally known from an abbacy given to him by
Henri II. when he was still a boy) was born about 1540, in the province
of Perigord, but the exact date and place of his birth have not been
ascertained. He was the third son of François, Comte de Bourdeilles, and
his mother, Anne de Vivonne de la Chataigneraie, was the sister of the
famous duellist whose encounter with Jarnac his nephew has described in
a well-known passage. In the court of Marguerite d'Angoulême, the
literary nursery of so great a part of the talent of France at this
time, he passed his early youth, went to school at Paris and at
Poitiers, and was made Abbé de Brantôme at the age of sixteen. He was
thus sufficiently provided for, and he never took any orders, but was a
courtier and a soldier throughout the whole of his active life. Indeed
almost the first use he made of his benefice was to equip himself and a
respectable suite for a journey into Italy, where he served under the
Maréchal de Brissac. He accompanied Mary Stuart to Scotland, served in
the Spanish army in Africa, volunteered for the relief of Malta from the
Turks, and again for the expedition destined to assist Hungary against
Soliman, and in other ways led the life of a knight-errant. The
religious wars in his own country gave him plenty of employment; but in
the reigns of Charles IX. and Henri III. he was more particularly
attached to the suite of the queen dowager and her daughter Marguerite.
He was, however, somewhat disappointed in his hopes of recompense; and
after hesitating for a time between the Royalists, the Leaguers, and the
Spaniards, he left the court, retired into private life, and began to
write his memoirs, partly in consequence of a severe accident. He seems
to have begun to write about 1594, and he lived for twenty years longer,
dying on the 15th of July, 1614.

The form of Brantôme's works is, as has been said, peculiar. They are
usually divided into two parts, dealing respectively with men and women.
The first part in its turn consists of many sub-divisions, the chief of
which is made up of the _Vies des Grands Capitaines Étrangers et
Français_, while others consist of separate disquisitions or essays,
_Des Rodomontades Espagnoles_, 'On some Duels and Challenges in France'
and elsewhere, 'On certain Retreats, and how they are sometimes better
than Battles,' etc. Of the part which is devoted to women the chief
portion is the celebrated _Dames Galantes_, which is preceded by a
series of _Vies des Dames Illustres_, matching the _Grands Capitaines_.
The _Dames Galantes_ is subdivided into eight discourses, with titles
which smack of Montaigne, as thus, 'Qu'il n'est bien séant de parler mal
des honnestes dames bien qu'elles fassent l'amour,' 'Sçavoir qui est
plus belle chose en amour,' etc. These discourses are, however, in
reality little but a congeries of anecdotes, often scandalous enough.
Besides these, his principal works, Brantôme left divers _Opuscula_,
some of which are definitely literary, dealing chiefly with Lucan. None
of his works were published in his lifetime, nor did any appear in print
until 1659. Meanwhile manuscript copies had, as usual, been multiplied,
with the result, also usual, that the text was much falsified and

The great merit of Brantôme lies in the extraordinary vividness of his
powers of literary presentment. His style is careless, though it is
probable that the carelessness is not unstudied. But his irregular,
brightly coloured, and easily flowing manner represents, as hardly any
age has ever been represented, the characteristics of the great society
of his time. It is needless to say that the morals of that time were
utterly corrupt, but Brantôme accepts them with a placid complacency
which is almost innocent. No writer, perhaps, has ever put things more
disgraceful on paper; but no writer has ever written of such things in
such a perfectly natural manner. Brantôme was in his way a
hero-worshipper, though his heroes and heroines were sometimes oddly
coupled. Bayard and Marguerite de Valois represent his ideals, and a
good knight or a beautiful lady _de par le monde_ can do no wrong. This
unquestioning acceptance of, and belief in, the moral standards of his
own society, give a genuineness and a freshness to his work which are
very rare in literature. Few writers, again, have had the knack of
hitting off character, superficially it is true, yet with sufficient
distinction, which Brantôme has. There is something individual about all
the innumerable characters who move across his stage, and something
thoroughly human about all, even the anonymous men and women, who appear
for a moment as the actors in some too frequently discreditable scene.
With all this there is a considerable vein of moralising in Brantôme
which serves to throw up the relief of his actual narratives. He has
sometimes been compared to Pepys, but, except in point of garrulity and
of readiness to set down on paper anything that came into their heads,
there is little likeness between the two. Brantôme was emphatically an
_écrivain_ (unscholarly and Italianised as his phrase sometimes appears,
if judged by the standards of a severer age), and some of the best
passages from his works are among the most striking examples of French

[Sidenote: Montluc.]

Next to Brantôme, and in some respects above him, though of a somewhat
less remarkable idiosyncrasy, come Montluc, La Noue, and D'Aubigné, with
Marguerite de Valois not far behind. Blaise de Lasseran-Massencôme,
Seigneur de Montluc[220], was a typical _cadet de Gascogne_, though he
was not, strictly speaking, a cadet, being the eldest son of a
fortuneless house. He became page to Antoine of Lorraine, and made his
first campaign under the orders of Bayard, fighting through the whole of
the Italian war, and being knighted on the field at Cérisoles. In the
next reign he was promoted to high command, and held Sienna against the
Imperialists with distinguished gallantry and skill. When the civil war
broke out he was made Governor of Guyenne, where he maintained order
with the strong hand, 'heading and hanging' Catholics and Protestants
alike, if they showed signs of disloyalty. Ruthless as he was, he was
one of the few great officers who refused to participate in the massacre
of St. Bartholomew. He was made a marshal in 1574, and died three years
later. Montluc's Memoirs are purely military, and the most famous
description of them is that of Henri IV., who called them the soldier's
Bible. His style is concise, free from the slightest attempt at
elaborate ornament, but admirably picturesque and clear. His account of
his exploit at Sienna is one of the capital chapters of French military
history. But almost any page of Montluc possesses eminently the
characteristics which great generals from Cæsar downwards have almost
uniformly displayed, when they possess any literary talent at all. The
words and sentences are marshalled and managed like an army; everything
goes straight to the point; there is no confusion, and the whole
complicated scene is as clear as a geometrical diagram.

[Sidenote: La Noue.]

The Memoirs of La Noue are usually spoken of separately, though in
reality they form a part of his _Discours Politiques et Militaires_.
François de la Noue, called Bras-de-Fer (a surname which he deserved not
metaphorically, but literally, having had to replace one of his arms
shot off during a siege), was a Breton, and of a good family. He was
born in 1531, fought through the religious wars, escaped St. Bartholomew
by being Alva's prisoner in Flanders, took an active part against the
League, and died at the siege of Lamballe, Aug. 4, 1591. His defence of
La Rochelle was one of the chief of his many feats of arms. The
'Discourses' were published during his life. They are of a more
reflective character than those of Montluc, and display much greater
mental cultivation. The style is not quite so vivid, the sentences are
longer and more charged with thought. La Noue, in short, is a
philosophical soldier and a politician. His style is perhaps less
archaic than that of any of his contemporaries, and is distinguished by
a remarkable strength, sobriety, and precision. He was very highly
thought of by both political parties, and was not unfrequently employed
in schemes of mediation. It is a pleasant story, and not irrelevant in a
history of literature, that a scheme for his assassination during one of
his visits to Paris was discovered by Brantôme, who warned his future
craftsfellow of it.

[Sidenote: Agrippa d'Aubigné.]

Agrippa d'Aubigné belongs to this section of the subject by his _Vie à
ses Enfants_, often called his memoirs, by his _Histoire Universelle_,
and by a great number of letters. The same qualities which distinguish
D'Aubigné in verse are recognisable in his prose, his passionate and
insubordinate temper, the keenness of his satire, the somewhat turbid
grandeur of his style and images, the vigour and picturesqueness of
occasional traits. The _Histoire Universelle_ and the _Vie à ses
Enfants_ were both works written in old age, but there is hardly any
sign of failing power in them. The _Vie_ in particular contains many
passages, such as the vision of his mother and the passionate charge
which his father laid upon him at the sight of the victims of the
Amboise conspiracy, which rank very high among the prose of the century.
The _Histoire Universelle_, like the book which Raleigh wrote almost at
the same time, and under not dissimilar circumstances, is necessarily in
great part a compilation, but has many passages worthy of its author at
his best.

[Sidenote: Marguerite de Valois.]

The Memoirs of Marguerite de Valois contain what is perhaps the
best-known and oftenest quoted passage of any memoirs of the time, that
in which the Princess describes the night of St. Bartholomew. There are
not many such stirring passages in them, but throughout Marguerite gives
evidence of the remarkable talent which distinguished the Valois. Her
evident object is to justify herself, and this makes the book somewhat
artificial. It is dedicated to Brantôme, but shows in its manner rather
the influence of Ronsard and the Pléiade by the classical correctness of
the style, the absence of archaisms, and the precision and form of the
sentences. According to the principles of the school, the vocabulary is
simple and vernacular enough, for the Pléiade regarded ornate
classicisms of language as proper to poetry.

In a rank not much below those mentioned must be placed the so-called
_Mémoires de Vieilleville_, the _Chronologies_ of Palma-Cayet, the
_Registres-Journaux_ of Pierre de l'Estoile, the Letters of
Duplessis-Mornay, Cardinal d'Ossat, and Henri IV. himself, and the
_Négotiations_ of the President Jeannin.

[Sidenote: Vieilleville.]

The Maréchal de Vieilleville was one of the foremost French generals of
the sixteenth century, and, considering the violent and unscrupulous
ways of the time, he had a good reputation for moderation, probity, and
patriotism, as well as for courage and ability. His Memoirs are not his
own work, but that of his secretary and lifelong companion, Vincent
Carloix. They have some of the defects of a deliberate panegyric; but
Carloix is a vigorous and able writer, who, without completely
emancipating himself from the tyranny of the long involved sentence,
contrives to write clearly, and often with much picturesque effect.

[Sidenote: Palma-Cayet.]

Pierre Victor Palma-Cayet was of mean extraction, but received a good
education, and was introduced by La Noue to Jeanne d'Albret as a
suitable assistant-tutor for her son. After the accession of his pupil,
he was appointed to various offices, one of which, that of Chronologer
Royal, no doubt occasioned the odd titles of his two principal works,
_Chronologie Novénaire_ and _Chronologie Septénaire_, which give the
history of Henri's reign, dividing it into two portions, the one of nine
years, the other of seven. Cayet also wrote several minor works, and
divides with D'Aubigné the doubtful honour of being the author of the
_Divorce Satirique_, a scurrilous pamphlet against Marguerite. The
_Chronologies_ are extremely full of matter, and admirably precise in
their information, but their literary value is not great.

[Sidenote: Pierre de l'Estoile.]

From this point of view Pierre de l'Estoile[221] is of a higher class.
He was a lawyer of rank and an indefatigable writer. Day by day he put
down in his _Tablettes_ all sorts of public and private affairs, as well
as literary extracts, obituary notices, and, in short, almost the entire
material of a modern newspaper. Pierre de l'Estoile, much more than
Brantôme, is the French Pepys. Although occasionally prejudiced, the
writer seems to have been acute and well-informed, and his manner of
dealing with his heterogeneous materials is light and lively.

[Sidenote: D'Ossat.]

Of the three correspondence-writers just mentioned, though Henri himself
is a vigorous and fertile writer, the most important by far is Cardinal
D'Ossat. He was born in the south of France in 1536, and had not, unlike
many of the diplomatist ecclesiastics of the period, the advantage of
high birth. Like many of his contemporaries, he began as a lawyer and
only subsequently took orders. He began diplomatic life as Secretary to
the Archbishop of Toulouse, who was ambassador at Rome, and later on
conducted the negotiations which led to the conversion of Henri IV. He
then became Bishop of Rennes and cardinal. His letters are almost
entirely devoted to subjects connected with his profession, and have
always held a position as one of the earliest models of diplomatic
writing. D'Ossat's style, especially in respect of its vocabulary, was
long regarded as a pattern, but it has less character than that of some
other sixteenth-century writers.

[Sidenote: Sully.]

The last two books to be named belong, in point of date, to the next
century, but were written by, or for, men who were emphatically of the
sixteenth. The extraordinary form of Sully's Memoirs is well known. They
are neither written as if by himself, nor of him as by a historian of
the usual kind. They are directly addressed to the hero in the form of
an elaborate reminder of his own actions. 'You then said this;' 'his
Majesty thereupon sent you there;' 'when you were two leagues from your
halting-place, you saw a courier coming,' etc. It is needless to say
that this manner of telling history is in the highest degree unnatural
and heavy, and, after the first quaintness of it wears off, it makes the
book very hard to read. It contains, however, a very large number of
short memoirs and documents of all kinds, in which the elaborate farce
of 'Vous' is perforce abandoned. It shows Sully as he was--a great and
skilful statesman: but it does not give a pleasant idea of his

[Sidenote: Jeannin.]

Pierre Jeannin was, like D'Ossat, a diplomatist in the service of Henri
IV. He had previously discharged many legal functions of importance, and
subsequently he was Controller-General of the Finances. His
_Négotiations_ contain the record of his proceedings on a mission to the
Netherlands to watch over the interests of France. The book consists of
letters, despatches, treaties, and such-like documents, very clear,
precise, and written in a remarkably simple and natural style.

[Sidenote: Minor Memoir-writers.]

There were many other writers of memoirs during the period, most of
whose works are comprised in the invaluable collections of Petitot,
Michaud, Poujoulat, and Buchon. But few of them require a separate
mention here. Guillaume and Martin du Bellay, two brothers, have left a
history of Francis I.'s reign, of which the part belonging to Guillaume
is only a small fragment of an immense work which he entitled _Les
Ogdoades_, it being divided into seven batches of eight books each. The
imitation of the classics is obvious, and the constant intrusion of
classical parallels rather tedious. The Memoirs of the Duke of Guise,
composed in great part of what we should call his secretary's
letter-book, are very voluminous, but not of much literary value.
François de Rabutin, author of _Commentaires des Guerres de la Gaule
Belgique_, has the fault, common to his time, of enormous sentences, but
is often lively and picturesque enough, as becomes a member of the
family of Madame de Sévigné and of Bussy-Rabutin. The famous Marshal de
Tavannes, on whom more than on any single man rests the blood of St.
Bartholomew's Day, found a biographer in his son Jean de Tavannes, whose
work, though somewhat too elaborate, is interesting. Another son,
Guillaume de Saulx-Tavannes, has written his own memoirs on a smaller
scale. The memoirs of Michel de Castelnau show more of the tradition of
Comines than most of their contemporaries, and are remarkably full of
political studies. Boyvin du Villars, of whom little is known, left
voluminous memoirs which have some literary merit. The last book of
memoirs of some size which needs to be mentioned, is that of Nicholas de
Neufville, Seigneur de Villeroy, a politician of eminence and a vigorous
writer. Some short pieces may be noticed, such as the Siege of Metz, by
Bertrand de Salignac, that of St. Quentin, by Coligny himself, the only
literary monument of the Admiral (an excellent specimen of the military
writing of the time), and a very curious history of Annonay in the
Vivarais by Achille Gamon, which gives perhaps the liveliest idea
obtainable of the sufferings of the French provincial towns during the
religious wars.

[Sidenote: General Historians.]

The general histories, which make up a second class of historical
writings, are, as a rule, of very much less value than these personal
memoirs. Not till the extreme end of the period did the historical
conception take a firm hold in De Thou, and the _Thuana_ was written in
Latin, which excludes it and its author from detailed notice here.
D'Aubigné's _Histoire Universelle_ of his own time has been mentioned
for convenience' sake already. Lancelot de la Popelinière attempted in
the last quarter of the century a general history of France, and
incidentally of Europe during his own day. He is said to have spent all
his fortune on getting together the materials, but his literary powers
were small. About the same time Bernard Girard, Seigneur du Haillan,
published a history of France from the earliest times, which an extract
of Thierry's, giving the speeches of Charamond and Quadrek, Merovingians
of Du Haillan's own creation, who speak on the advantages of different
forms of government at the election of Pharamond, has made known to many
persons who never saw the original. The source of this grotesque
imagination is of course obvious to readers of Herodotus, and similar
imitation of classical models is frequent in Du Haillan's work. François
de Belleforest also wrote a general history of France, which was long
read, and the names of Du Tillet, Jean de Serres, Charron, Dupleix, etc.
may be mentioned. But they represent writers of little importance,
either from the point of view of history, or from that of literature.


[213] The standard edition until recently has been that of Le Clerc (4
vols. Paris, 1866). That of Louandre in the Bibliothèque Charpentier is
handy and useful. MM. Courbet and Roger have begun a handsome edition.

[214] The references are to the edition of Louandre.

[215] _De la Sagesse._ 2 vols. Paris, 1789.

[216] Ed. 1641.

[217] Ed. 1578.

[218] Ed. Feugère. Paris, 1846.

[219] Ed. Buchon. 2 vols. Paris, 1839. The Société de l'Histoire de
France has a voluminous edition on hand. Mérimée, who was a great
admirer of Brantôme, began an edition for the Bibliothèque Elzévirienne,
but left it unfinished.

[220] Montluc's _Memoirs_, as well as most of those mentioned below,
will be found in the collection of Michaud and Poujoulat.

[221] The earlier editions of this writer are not complete. In 1875 a
full reprint was begun.



[Sidenote: Satyre Ménippée.]

The period of the Renaissance in France closed with two works (one for
the most part in prose and due to various authors, the other wholly in
verse and the work of one only) which exhibit the highest excellence.
The _Satyre Ménippée_ and the satires of Regnier are separated in point
of date of publication by some fifteen years, and the contributors to
the first-named work belong for the most part to an earlier generation,
and represent a less accomplished state of the language than the great
satirist who, after fifteen centuries, took up the traditions of his
Roman masters. But both are satirical in substance, though the
_Ménippée_ is almost wholly political, and Regnier busies himself with
social and moral subjects only. Both possess in a high degree the
characteristics of the period which they close. Both exhibit a
remarkable power of treating ephemeral subjects in a manner calculated
to make their interest something more than ephemeral. Both have met with
the just reward of continuing to be popular even at times when the most
unjust unpopularity rested on work scarcely less excellent but less
calculated to please the taste of those who, however much they may
sympathise with the fashions of their own day, are unable to sympathise
with those of a day which is not theirs.

The _Satyre Ménippée_[222] was a remarkable, and, for those who take an
interest both in literature and in politics, a most encouraging instance
of the power of literary treatment at certain crises of political
matters. It appeared in 1594, at the crucial period of the League. For
years there had existed the party known for the most part
uncomplimentarily as _Les Politiques_. These persons professed
themselves unable to find, in the simple difference of Catholic _v._
Protestant, a _casus belli_ for Frenchmen against Frenchmen. Their
influence, however, though it occasionally rose to the surface in the
days of Charles IX. and Henri III., had never been lasting, and they
laboured under the charge of being Laodiceans, trimmers, men who cared
for nothing but hollow peace and material prosperity. The assassination
of Henri III., and the open confederation between the Leaguers and the
Spanish party, at last gave them their opportunity, and it was seized
with an adroitness which would have been remarkable in a single man, but
which is still more remarkable in a group of men of very different
antecedents, professions, ages, and beliefs. The _Satyre Ménippée_ is,
in fact, the first and most admirable example of the theory of the
modern newspaper--the theory that the combined ability of many men is
likely, on the whole, to treat complicated and ephemeral affairs better
than the limited, though perhaps individually greater, ability of any
one man. The _Ménippée_, prose and verse, was due to the working of a
new Pléiade--Leroy, Gillot, Passerat, Rapin, Chrestien, Pithou, and
Durant. Most of them were lawyers, a few were more or less connected
with the Church. Pierre Leroy, a canon of Rouen, of whom nothing is
known, but whose character De Thou praises, is said to have planned the
book, and to have acted in some way as editor. Jacques Gillot,
clerk-advocate of the Parliament, received the literary conspirators in
his house. Passerat and Rapin represented the mixed classical and French
culture of the immediate companions of Ronsard. Florent Chrestien was a
converted Huguenot, much given to translation of ancient authors. Pithou
(the writer of the harangue of Claude d'Aubray, the most important piece
of the whole and containing the moral and idea of the book) was, like
Chrestien, a convert. He ranks as one of the most distinguished members
of the French bar, and had a deserved reputation for every kind of
learning in his time. Lastly, Durant, who contributed rather to the
appendix of the book than to the book itself, was an Auvergnat
gentleman, who preferred poetry to law, and justified his preference by
some capital work, partly of a satirical kind, partly of an elegant and
tender gallantry, anticipating, as has been justly said, the eighteenth
century in elegance, and excelling it in tenderness.

The plan of the _Ménippée_ (the title of which, it is hardly necessary
to say, is borrowed from the name of the cynic philosopher celebrated by
Lucian) is for the time singularly original and bold; but the spirit in
which the subject is treated is more original still. Generally speaking,
the piece has the form of a _compte-rendu_ of the assembly of the states
at Paris. The full title is _De la Vertu du Catholicon d'Espagne et de
la Tenue des États de Paris_. The preface contains a sarcastic harangue
in orthodox charlatan style on the merits of the new Catholicon or
Panacea. Then comes a description (in which, as throughout the work,
actual facts are blended inextricably with satirical comment) of the
opening procession. To this succeeds a sketch of the tapestries with
which the hall of meeting was hung, all of which are, of course,
allegorical, and deal with murders of princes, betrayal of native
countries to foreigners, etc. Next comes _L'Ordre tenu pour les
Séances_, in which the chief personages on the side of the League are
enumerated in a long catalogue, every item of which contains some bitter
allusion to the private or public conduct of the person named. Seven
solemn speeches are then delivered by the Duke de Mayenne as lieutenant,
by the legate, by the Cardinal de Pelvé, by the bishop of Lyons, by
Rose, the fanatical rector of the University, by the Sieur de Rieux, as
representative of the nobility; and, lastly, by a certain Monsieur
d'Aubray, for the _Tiers-État_. A burlesque _coda_ concludes the volume,
the joints of which are, first, a short verse satire on Pelvé; secondly,
a collection of epigrams due to Passerat; and, thirdly, Durant's _Regret
Funèbre à Mademoiselle ma Commère sur le Trépas de son Âne_, a
delightful satire on the Leaguers, which did not appear in the first
edition, but which yields to few things in the book.

It has been said that the plan of the _Ménippée_ has of itself not a
little originality. Satirical comment and travesty devoted to political
affairs had been common enough almost for centuries in France, but no
satire of the kind had hitherto flown so high, or with so well-organised
a flight. The seven speeches, which form the bulk of the book, display
moreover a remarkable variety and a still more remarkable combination of
excellences. The first six--those of Mayenne, the legate, Pelvé, the
bishop of Lyons, Rose, and Rieux, none of which is long--are, without
exception, caricatures, and of that peculiar order of caricature in
which the victim is made, without a glaring violation of probability, to
render himself vile and ridiculous, and to give utterance to the satire
and invective which the author desires to pour upon him. Butler (who
beyond all doubt had the _Satyre Ménippée_ in his mind when he projected
his own immortal travesty of the Puritan party) is the only writer who
has ever come near to its authors in this particular department of
satire. Treated as they were by different hands, there is a curiously
pleasing variety of style in the portraits. Mayenne uses a mixture of
aristocratic and somewhat haughty frankness with garrulous digression.
The two cardinals indulge in an astounding macaronic jargon, the one of
Italian mingled with Latin, the other of Latin mingled with French. The
bishop of Lyons, and Rose the rector, preach sermons, after the fashion
of the time, thickly larded with quotations, stories, and so forth.
Rieux (he was a noted bandit) expresses with soldierly frankness his
extreme surprise that he should have become a gentleman and the
representative of the nobility, and mildly reproaches Mayenne and the
League for not having given _carte-blanche_ to himself and his likes to
finish off the _Politiques_ bag-and-baggage. But in the last harangue,
that of the representative of the _Tiers-État_, Claude d'Aubray, which
is, as has been said, the work of Pithou, and which occupies something
like half the book, the tone is entirely altered. In this remarkable
discourse the whole political situation is treated seriously, and with a
mixture of practical vigour and literary skill of which there had hardly
been any precedent instance. D'Aubray denounces the condition of Paris
first, and the condition of the kingdom afterwards. The foreign
garrisons, the sufferings of private persons by the war, the deprivation
or suspension of privileges, are all commented upon. A remarkable
historical sketch of the religious wars follows, and then turn by turn
the speaker attacks those who have spoken before him, and exposes their
conduct. A vigorous sketch of 'Le Roy que nous voulons et que nous
aurons,' leads up to the announcement that this king is no other than
'Notre vray Roy légitime, naturel et souverain, Seigneur Henry de
Bourbon, cy-devant Roy de Navarre.' After this discomposing harangue the
assembly breaks up in some confusion.

The _Satyre Ménippée_ had an immense effect, and may, perhaps, be justly
described as the first example, in modern politics, of a literary work
the effect of which was really great and lasting. It is not surprising
that such should have been its fortune. For it is a remarkably happy
mixture of the older style of _gaulois_ jocularity (in which
exaggeration, personal attack, insinuations of a more or less scandalous
character and the like, furnished the attraction) and the newer style of
chastened and comparatively polished prose. The greater part of the
first six speeches are of a more antique cast than Montaigne; and though
the speech of D'Aubray exhibits a more elaborate and less familiar
style, it too is definitely plain and popular in manner. Although there
are the allusions usual at the time to classical subjects, the Pléiade
pedantry, with which at least two of the contributors, Passerat and
Rapin, were sufficiently imbued, is conspicuously absent. Rabelais is
frequently alluded to; and when the style of the book and the obvious
intention of appealing to the general, which it exhibits, are
considered, no better testimony to the popularity of _Gargantua_ and
_Pantagruel_ could be produced. The descriptions, too, have a
Rabelaisian minuteness and richness about them; and in the burlesque
parts the influence of that master is equally perceptible. But the
strictly practical point of view is always maintained; and the
temptation, always a strong one with French writers of the middle age
and Renaissance, to lose sight of this in endless developments of mere
amusing buffoonery, is constantly resisted. There is certainly less
exaggeration in the _Ménippée_ than in _Hudibras_, though the personal
weaknesses of the innumerable individual persons satirised contribute
more to the general effect than they do in Butler's great satire. The
distinguishing trait of the _Satyre Ménippée_, next to those already
mentioned, is the constant rain of slight ironical touches contributing
to the general effect. Thus the arms of the processioning Leaguers are,
'le tout rouillé par Humilité Catholique;' the League scholastics and
preachers 'forment tous leurs arguments in _ferio_.' The deputies'
benches are covered with cloth, 'parsemées de croisettes de Lorraine et
de larmes miparties de vair et de faux argent.' These sure and rapid
touches distinguish the book strongly from nearly all mediaeval satire,
in which the satirists are wont, whenever they make a point, to dwell on
it, and expound it, and illustrate it, and make the most of it, until it
loses almost all its piquancy. Very different from this over-elaboration
is the confident irony of the _Ménippée_, which trusts to the
intelligence of the reader for understanding and emphasis. 'Vous
prévoyez bien,' says Mayenne, 'les dangers et inconvéniens de la paix
qui met ordre à tout, et rend le droit à qui il appartient.' Hardly even
Antoine de la Salle, and certainly no other among the authors of the
preceding centuries, would have ventured to leave this, obvious as it
seems now-a-days, to reach the reader by itself.

[Sidenote: Regnier.]

A similar but a still more remarkable, because an individually complete,
example of the combination of Gallican tradition with classical study
was soon afterwards shown by Mathurin Regnier[223]. Regnier was born at
Chartres on the 21st of December, 1573, his father being Jacques
Regnier, a citizen of position; his mother was Simonne Desportes, sister
of the poet. Jacques Regnier desired for his son the ecclesiastical, but
not the poetical, eminence of his brother-in-law, and Mathurin was
tonsured at nine years old. The boy, however, wished to follow his
uncle's steps in the other direction, and early began to write. It is
said that he wrote lampoons on the inhabitants of his native town, and,
repeating them to the frequenters of a tennis-court which his father had
built, got himself thus into trouble. His father's threats and
punishments, however, had no more effect than is usual in such cases,
and Regnier soon, but at a date not exactly known, betook himself to his
uncle at Paris. By Desportes, who was in favour with many high
personages, he was recommended to the Cardinal de Joyeuse, and took part
in that prelate's embassy to Rome in 1593. Joyeuse, however, did nothing
for him, and in 1601 he again went to Rome in the suite of Philippe de
Bethune. He returned before long, and, in 1604, a canonry, to the
reversion of which he had been presented long before, fell in. His first
collection of satires appeared in 1608. Five years afterwards, in 1613,
on the 22nd of October, he died at Rouen, having not quite completed his
fortieth year. His way of life had unfortunately been by no means
regular, and his early death is said to have been directly caused by his

In this short sketch almost everything that is known of Regnier, except
a few anecdotes, has been included, and the total is, it will be seen,
exceedingly meagre. Nor is his work abundant even for a man who died
comparatively young. Sixteen satires, three epistles, five elegies, and
a few miscellaneous pieces, make it up, and probably the total does not
exceed seven or eight thousand lines. The relative excellence of this
work is however exceedingly high. Regnier is almost the only French poet
before the so-called classical period who has continuously maintained
his reputation, and who has only been decried by a few eccentric or
incompetent critics. He was an ardent defender of the Ronsardising
tradition, yet Malherbe, whom he did not hesitate to attack, thought and
spoke highly of him. In the next age Boileau allotted to him a mixture
of praise and blame which is not too apposite, but in which the praise
far exceeds the blame, and elsewhere declared him to be the French
writer, before Molière, who best knew human nature. The approval of
Boileau secured that of the eighteenth century, while Regnier's defence
of the Pléiade propitiated the first Romantics. Thus buttressed on
either side, he has had nothing to fear from literary revolutions. Nor
will any judgment which looks rather at merit than authority arrive at
an unfavourable conclusion respecting him. His satires are not indeed
absolutely the first of their kind in French. Vauquelin de la Fresnaye,
Jean de la Taille, and above all, D'Aubigné, had preceded him. But in
breadth as well as, except in the case of D'Aubigné, in force, and above
all in even excellence and technical merit, he far surpassed those who
in a manner had shown him the way. His satire is exclusively social, and
thus it escapes one of the chief drawbacks of political satire, that of
dealing with matters of more or less ephemeral existence and interest.
He has indeed borrowed considerably from the ancients, but he has
almost always made his borrowings his own, and he has in some cases
improved on his originals. He has softened the exaggerated air of moral
indignation which his English contemporaries, Hall and Marston, borrowed
from Juvenal, and which sits so awkwardly on them and on many other
satirists. He has avoided such still more awkward followings as that
which made Pope upset all English literary history in order to echo
Horace's remarks about Rome and Greece. Sometimes he has fallen into the
besetting sin of his countrymen, the tendency to represent mere types or
even abstractions instead of lifelike individuals embodying the type,
but he has more often avoided it. His descriptive passages are of
extraordinary vigour and accuracy of touch, and his occasional strokes
are worthy of almost any satiric or didactic poet. He is perhaps
weakest, like all poets with the signal exception of Dryden, when he is
panegyrical. Yet his first satire--in the order of arrangement not of
writing--addressed to the King, Henri IV., has much merit. The second,
on poets, has more, and abounds in vigorous strokes, such as that of the
courtier bard who

    Méditant un sonnet, médite un évêché;

and as the couplet which concludes a lively sketch of his diplomatic

    Mais instruit par le temps à la fin j'ai connu
    Que la fidélité n'est pas grand revenu.

This poem, which contains some humorous descriptions of the poverty of
poets, ends with an eloquent panegyric on Ronsard. The next, on 'La Vie
de la Cour,' attacks a very favourite subject of the age, and winds up
with an extremely well-told version of the fable of the beast of prey
and the mule whose name is written on its hoof. The fourth returns to
the subject of the poverty of poets. The fifth argues at some length,
and in a spirit not very far removed from that of Montaigne, the thesis
that 'Le goût particulier décide de tout.' It contains some of Regnier's
finest passages. A subject somewhat similar in kind, 'L'honneur ennemi
de la vie,' gives further occasion, in the sixth, for the display of
the moralising spirit of the age, which, in Regnier, takes the form of
a kind of epicurean pococurantism mingled with occasional bursts of
noble sentiment. The seventh is one of the most personal of all; it is
entitled 'L'amour qu'on ne peut dompter,' and is a comment on the text
_Video meliora proboque_. The eighth is one of the innumerable
imitations of the famous ninth satire of the first book of Horace, _Ibam
forte via sacra_, and perhaps the happiest of all such, though it is
difficult not to regret that Regnier should have devoted his too rare
moments of work to mere imitation. The ninth, however, is open to no
such charge. It is entitled _Le Critique outré_, and is an
extraordinarily vigorous and happy remonstrance against the intolerant
pedantry with which Malherbe was criticising the Pléiade. This satire is
addressed to Rapin, the veteran contributor to the _Ménippée._ It is
impossible to describe the weak side of the reforms which Malherbe, and
after him Boileau, introduced into French poetry, better than in these
lines, which deserve citation for their literary importance:--

    Cependant leur scavoir ne s'estend seulement
    Qu'à regratter un mot douteux au jugement,
    Prendre garde qu'un qui ne heurte une diphtongue;
    Espier si des vers la rime est brève ou longue;
    Ou bien si la voyelle, à l'autre s'unissant,
    Ne rend point à l'oreille un vers trop languissant.
    Ils rampent bassement, foibles d'inventions,
    Et n'osent, peu hardis, tenter les fictions,
    Froids à l'imaginer; ear 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 façon,
    Qu'elle rend à l'oreille un agréable son.

The tenth satire, with its title 'Le souper ridicule,' seems to return
to Horace, but in reality the scene described has little in common with
the _Coena_ of Nasidienus. It affords Regnier an excellent opportunity
for displaying his talent for Dutch painting, but is in this respect
inferior to the sequel 'Le mauvais gîte.' The subject of this is
sufficiently unsavoury, and the satire is almost the only one which in
the least deserves Boileau's strictures on the author's 'rimes
cyniques,' but the vigour and skill of the treatment are most
remarkable. The twelfth is short, and once more apologetically personal.
But the thirteenth is the longest, one of the most famous, and
unquestionably on the whole the best work of the author. It is entitled
'Macette,' and describes an old woman who hides vice under a
hypocritical mask and corrupts youth with her evil philosophy of the
world and its ways. Indebted in some measure to the _Roman de la Rose_
for the idea of his central character, Regnier is entirely original in
his method of treatment. Nowhere are his verses more vigorous--

    Son oeil tout pénitent ne pleure qu'eau béniste.
    L'honneur est un vieux saint que l'on ne chomme plus.
    La sage se sait vendre où la sotte se donne.

Nowhere is Regnier so uniformly free from technical defects and from
colloquialisms in which he sometimes indulges. The fourteenth returns to
general and somewhat vague satire, dealing with the vanity of human
reason and conduct, while the fifteenth is once more personal, 'Le Poète
malgré soi.' Lastly, the sixteenth sums up the author's theoretical
philosophy in the opening line, 'N'avoir crainte de rien et ne rien

The satires are in bulk and in importance so much the larger part of the
work of Regnier, and represent such an important innovation in French
literature, that it has seemed well to describe them with some
minuteness. The miscellaneous poems may be reviewed more rapidly, though
the best of them add very considerably to the poet's reputation, because
they show him in an entirely different light. Not a few of the elegies
are imitated from Ovid, and some of them might perhaps have been left
unwritten with advantage. Indeed, Regnier is here much more open to
Boileau's censure than in his more famous verse. But some lyrical pieces
exhibit his command of other measures besides the Alexandrine, and
afford occasion for the expression of a melancholy and genuine
sensibility which is not common in French poetry. The poem called
'Plainte' is very beautiful, and is written in a lyric stanza of much
more elaboration than any which was to be used in France for two
centuries. One of its peculiarities is a hemistich replacing the
expected fourth line of the stanza, which is of eight verses, with
singularly musical effect. A so-called 'Ode' is almost better, and ends

    Un regret pensif et confus
    D'avoir esté, et n'estre plus,
    Rend mon âme aux douleurs ouverte;
    A mes despens, las! je vois bien
    Qu'un bonheur comme estoit le mien
    Ne se cognoist que par la perte.

Regnier was in many ways a fitting representative for the close of the
great poetical school of the sixteenth century. In manner he represented
the fusion of the purely Gallic school of Marot and Rabelais, with the
classical tradition of the Pléiade in its best form. His Alexandrines,
if not quite so vigorous as D'Aubigné's, have all the polish that could
be expected before the administration of Malherbe's rules. His lyric
measures have the boldness and harmony which those rules banished from
French poetry for full seven generations. In matter he displays a
singular mixture of acute observation and philosophic criticism with
ardent sensibility both to pleasure and pain. This, as has been
repeatedly pointed out, is the dominant temper of the French
Renaissance, and though in Regnier it shows something of the melancholy
of the decadence as compared with the springing hope of Rabelais and the
calm maturity of Montaigne, it is scarcely less characteristic.


[222] Ed. Labitte. Paris, 1869.

[223] Ed. Courbet. Paris, 1875. In this edition some of the dates and
statements in the text, which have been generally accepted, are



The literary movements of the sixteenth century in France and their
accomplishments--in other words, the course and result of the French
Renaissance--can be traced with greater ease and with more precision
than those of any other age of the literature. The movement is double,
but, unlike most movements, literary and other, it is not sufficiently
described as flux and reflux or action and reaction. The later or
Pléiade half of the century was in no sense a reaction against the first
or Marot-Rabelais half. If there is an appearance of opposition between
the two it is only because, both in Marot and in Rabelais, there was
actually a kind of reaction from the movement which faintly and
imperfectly foreshadowed that of the Pléiade, the _rhétoriqueur_
pedantry of the writers from Chartier to Crétin. In this first half of
the century, while something of a protest was made by Rabelais
explicitly, and implicitly by Marot, against the indiscriminate
Latinising of the French tongue, very much more was done by their
contemporaries, and in a manner by Rabelais himself, in the way of
importing novelties of subject, style, and language, both from ancient
and modern sources. Long before Du Bellay wrote, Calvin had modelled the
first serious and scholarly work of French prose very closely on a Latin
pattern. The translators, with Étienne Dolet and Amyot at their head,
had begun to transfer to the vernacular, in versions or in original
work, the principles of style which they had admired and imitated in the
classics. On the other hand, Marot, representing the extreme vernacular
school, succeeded, tolerably early in the period, in refining and
chastening the language of the fifteenth century to such an extent that
his style, transmitted through La Fontaine, and then through the
lighter work of the eighteenth century, has retained a certain hold on
literature for its particular purpose almost to the present day. The
most remarkable writer, from the point of view of style, in this part of
the century is perhaps Bonaventure des Périers, who displays both the
vernacular purity free from classical mixture, and at the same time the
Renaissance admiration and imitation of the classics in a very high
degree. Yet the same lesson is taught by the prose of Des Périers as by
the verse of Marot. The language had not as yet arrived at its full
growth, it had not taken in its full supply of nourishment. It was
therefore not equal to the complete duties of a literary tongue. It
wanted enriching, strengthening, educating.

This task it was which was performed, and performed on the whole with
remarkable skill and success, by the Pléiade movement. It is not easy to
fix on any period in the history of any other language in which, at an
interval of fifty years, the advance in the capacities, as distinguished
from the mere accomplishments of the tongue, is so noticeable as it is
in French between 1550 and 1600. It is not merely that between these
dates writers of talent and even genius may be mentioned by the dozen,
that the language can boast of having added to its stores the odes of
Ronsard, the sonnets of Du Bellay, the myriad graceful songs of the
lesser poets of the Pléiade, the stately descriptions of Du Bartas, the
fiery invective of D'Aubigné, the polished satire of Regnier, the essays
of Montaigne, the immortal pasquinades of the Ménippée--it is that the
whole constitution and organisation of the language has been
strengthened and improved. That the secret of the Alexandrine has at
last been mastered means that the whole future course of French poetry
is in a manner mapped out. That lyric measures have been devised,
intricate, not merely in arrangement like those of the mediaeval forms,
but in harmony, means that at any future time French poets who choose to
recur to this storehouse may find the withal to equip themselves. That
the vocabulary has been enormously if somewhat indiscriminately
increased, means that writers in the future, at whatever loss they may
be for thought, need certainly be at no loss for words to express it.
But the gain is greater even than this. Not merely have the glossary,
the grammar, the prosody of the language been enriched, but entirely
new moulds in which literary work can be cast have been added to the
literature. The form of drama in which France was to achieve, with but
little formal alteration, some of her greatest literary triumphs, has
been discovered and acclimatised; the essay has become a recognised
thing; attempts at history proper as distinct from mere annals and
chronicles have been made. Literature, in short, is organised, and
literary labour works in matter roughly at least prepared and shaped.
One of the greatest drawbacks of mediaeval literature, the confusion of
styles, the handling of science in verse, of theology in terms taken
from amatory romances, of politics in 'dreams,' of social satire in
clumsy allegories, is cleared away. The form most suitable for every
kind of literary work has been more or less made clear to the literary
workman, and a plentiful supply of material in the shape of vocabulary
is at his disposal.

That this great accomplishment is on the whole the doing of the Pléiade
in its larger sense, as designating and including the men of letters of
1550-1600, no impartial student of the period can doubt. But at the same
time there is no doubt either that their work was both incomplete and in
some respects open to grave objection. They had, like all reformers,
literary as well as political, neglected to preserve the historical
continuity, and deliberately turned their backs on the traditions of the
language and the literature. Their importations and imitations had been
sometimes unnecessary, sometimes awkward, sometimes absurd. The mass of
their contributions required examination, arrangement, and no doubt in
some cases rejection. Moreover, they had on the whole concentrated their
attention too much upon poetry; prose, the less exquisite but the more
useful instrument, had been comparatively neglected. Almost all styles
had been tried in it, but no general style nor the conditions of any had
been elaborated. In drama much remained to be done. The model was there
in the rough, but the workmen had been unskilful, and fifty years of
practice on the plan of Jodelle had not yet resulted in the composition
of one really dramatic play. In short, though the Pléiade movement had
begun by being nothing if not critical, it had not kept up the habit of
self-criticism. The application of this criticism was what was left for
the seventeenth century to supply, and at the same time the elaboration
of a complete and workman-like prose style. We shall see how early and
how eagerly this task was accepted, and how thoroughly it was carried
out; so thoroughly, that the seventeenth century is the age of perfect
French prose. But what was gained in prose was lost in poetry, and,
putting the dramatists aside, the drop in this respect from the
sixteenth to the seventeenth century is immense. The sixteenth is,
putting our own days out of question, the palmy time of poetry in
France. The urbanity of Marot, the stately grace of Ronsard and his
followers, the majesty of Du Bartas, the fire of D'Aubigné, the nervous
and yet effortless strength of Regnier, have never been surpassed, and
until the last half century they have rarely been equalled. If to this
be added the more irregular and unequal, but hardly inferior merits of
the best sixteenth-century prose, the inexhaustible humour of Rabelais,
the simplicity and varied colour of the great memoir-writers, the subtle
eloquence of Montaigne, it may perhaps seem that the period can contest
the primacy with any other. The dispute between it and its successor is,
however, only an instance of one which recurs again and again in
literature, and which neither need nor should be handled here at





[Sidenote: Malherbe.]

The history of the poetry of the seventeenth century in France naturally
and necessarily opens with Malherbe, though he was forty-five years old
at its beginning, and considerably the senior of Regnier, who has been
included among the poets of the Renaissance. François de Malherbe[224]
was born at Caen in 1555, being the eldest son of his father, another
François de Malherbe, and both on the father's and mother's side of
noble family. He was educated at his native town, in Germany and in
Paris, and when he was twenty-one he entered the army. He married in
1581, and had three children, two of whom died young--a circumstance not
immaterial in connection with his most famous poem, which is a
'Consolation' to a certain M. du Périer, whose daughter Marguerite had
died in her youth. He seems to have written verses tolerably early, but,
exercising on himself the same rigid principles of criticism which he
applied to others, he preserved none or hardly any of them. It was not
till he was past forty that his best-known poems were written, and the
whole amount of his surviving work is not large. During the first
two-thirds of his life he was not rich, for his patrimony was scanty,
and the death of the Grand Prior, Henri d'Angoulême, to whom he had
attached himself, deprived him of the chances of preferment. But in
1605 he was presented to Henri IV.; he soon afterwards received various
places, and for more than twenty years was a court favourite, and in a
way the autocrat of poetry. He died in 1628.

It has been said that Malherbe's poetical work is by no means
voluminous: a small volume of two hundred pages, not very closely or
minutely printed, contains it all; and ingenious persons have calculated
that as a rule he did not write more than four or five verses a month.
Nor even of this carefully produced, and still more carefully weeded,
result is there much that can be read with pleasure by a modern student
of poetry. The verse by which Malherbe is best known,

    Et, rose, elle a vécu ce que vivent les roses,

is worth all the rest of his work, and it can hardly be said to be more
than a very graceful and touching conceit. But Malherbe's position in
the history of French poetry is a very important one. He deliberately
assumed the functions of a reformer of literature; and whatever may be
thought of the result of his reforms, their durability and the almost
entire acquiescence with which they were received prove that there must
have been something in them remarkably germane to the spirit and taste
and genius of the nation. His first attempt was the overthrow of the
Pléiade. He ridiculed their phraseology, frowned on their metres, and,
being himself destitute of the romantic inspiration which had animated
them, set himself to reduce poetry to carefully-worded metrical prose.
The story is always told of him that he went minutely through a copy of
Ronsard, striking out whatever he disapproved of; and when some one
pointed out the mass of lines that were left, that he drew his pen
(presumably across the title-page, for it is not obvious how else he
could have done it) through the rest at one stroke. The insolent folly
of this is glaring enough, for Malherbe is not worthy as a poet to
unloose the shoe-latchet of Ronsard. But the critic had rightly
appreciated his time. The tendency of the French seventeenth century in
poetry proper was towards the restriction of vocabulary and rhythm, the
avoidance of original and daring metaphor and suggestion, the perfecting
of a few metres (with the Alexandrine at their head) into a delicate
but monotonous harmony, and the rejection of individual licence in
favour of rigid rule. The influence of Boileau came rapidly to second
that of Malherbe, and the result is that not a single poet--the
dramatists are here excluded--of the seventeenth century in France
deserves more than fair second-class rank. La Fontaine, indeed, was a
writer of the greatest genius, but, though the form which his work takes
is metrical, the highest merits of poetry proper are absent. La
Fontaine, too, was himself, though an admirer of Malherbe, a rebel to
the Malherbe tradition, and delighted both in reading and imitating the
work of the Renaissance and the middle ages. But he is always clear,
precise, and matter-of-fact in the midst of fancy, never attaining to
the peculiar vague suggestiveness which constitutes the charm of poetry

[Sidenote: The School of Malherbe.]

[Sidenote: Vers de Société.]

[Sidenote: Voiture.]

It was, however, impossible that so large a change should accomplish
itself at once, and signs of mixed influences appear accordingly in all
the poetical work of the first half of the century. Cardinal du Perron,
Malherbe's introducer at court, was himself a poet of merit, but rather
in the Pléiade style. His _Temple de l'Inconstance_, though rougher in
form, is more poetical in substance than anything, save a very few
pieces, of Malherbe's. Chassignet displayed some of the same
characteristics with a graver and more elegiac spirit. Gombaud is
chiefly remarkable as a sonneteer. The two most famous of the actual
pupils of Malherbe were Maynard and Racan. Maynard was a diplomatist and
lawyer of rank, who was born at Toulouse in 1582, and died in 1646. His
work is miscellaneous, and not very extensive, but it shows that he had
learned the secret of polished versification from Malherbe, and that he
was able to apply it with a good deal of vigour and of variety. Honorat
de Bueil, Marquis de Racan[225], was the author of a pastoral drama,
_Les Bergeries_, founded on, or imitated from, the _Astrée_ of D'Urfé,
of an elaborate version of the Psalms, and of a considerable number of
the miscellaneous poems, _stances_, _odes_, _épitres_, etc., which were
fashionable. Racan, though his amiable private character and the
compliance of his principal work with a fashionable folly of the time
have caused him to be somewhat over-estimated traditionally, was a
thoroughly pleasing poet, with a great command of fluent and melodious
verse, a genuine love of nature, and occasionally a power of producing
poetry of a true kind which was shared by few of his contemporaries. The
remarkable author of _Tyr et Sidon_, Jean de Schélandre, produced,
besides his play, a considerable number of miscellaneous poems; but he
was a thorough reactionary, avowed his contempt of Malherbe, and
studied, not without success, Ronsard and his own coreligionist Du
Bartas as models. One of the most original, though at the same time one
of the most unequal poets of the early seventeenth century, was
Théophile de Viaud, often called Théophile[226] simply. He, too, was a
dramatist, but his dramas do not do him much credit, their style being
exaggerated and 'precious.' On the other hand, his miscellaneous poems,
though very unequal, include much work of remarkable beauty. The pieces
entitled 'La Solitude,' 'Sur une Tempête,' and the stanzas beginning
'Quand tu me vois baiser tes bras,' have all the fervour and
picturesqueness of the Pléiade without its occasional blemishes of
pedantic expression. Théophile was a loose liver and an unfortunate man.
He was accused, justly or unjustly, of writing indecent verses, was
imprisoned, and died young. All the poets hitherto mentioned were
writers of miscellaneous verse, who, except in so far as they held to
the elder tradition of Ronsard or the new gospel of Malherbe, can hardly
be said to have belonged to any school. Towards the middle of the
century, however, two well-defined fashions of poetry, with some minor
ones, distinguished themselves. There was, in the first place, the
school of the _coterie_ poets, who devoted themselves to producing _vers
de société_, either for the ladies, or for the great men of the period.
The chief of this school was beyond all question Voiture[227]. This
admirable writer of prose and verse published absolutely nothing during
his lifetime, though his work was in private the delight of the salons.
That it should be, under the circumstances, somewhat frivolous is almost
unavoidable. But, especially after the cessation of the great flow of
inspiration which had characterised the sixteenth century, it was of no
small importance that the art of perfect expression should be cultivated
in French. Voiture was one of those who contributed most to the
cultivation of this art. His letters are as correct as those of Balzac,
and much less stilted; and of his poetry it is sufficient to say that
nothing more charming of the kind has ever been written than the sonnet
to Uranie, which stirred up a literary war, or the rondeau 'Ma foi c'est
fait de moi.' This last put once more in fashion a beautiful and
thoroughly French form, which it had been one of the worst deeds of the
Pléiade to make unfashionable. The chief rival of Voiture was Benserade,
a much younger man, whose sonnet on Job was held to excel, though it
certainly does not, that to Uranie. Benserade was of higher birth and
larger fortune than Voiture, and long outlived him. He was a great
writer of ballets or masques, and not unfrequently, like Voiture, showed
that a true poet underlay the fantastic disguises he put on. Around
these two are grouped numerous minor poets of different merit.
Boisrobert, the favourite of Richelieu and the companion of Rotrou and
Corneille in that minister's band of 'five poets;' Maleville, who in one
of the sonnet-tournaments of the time, that of the _Belle Matineuse_,
was supposed to have excelled even Voiture; Colletet, whose poems make
him less important in literature than his Lives of the French poets,
which unfortunately perished during the Commune before they had been
fully printed; Gomberville, more famous as a novelist; Sarrasin, an
admirable prose writer, and a clever composer of ballades and other
light verse; Godeau, a bishop and a very clever versifier; Blot, who was
rather a political than a social rhymer; Marigny, who was also famous
for his Mazarinades, but whose satirical power was by no means the only
side of his poetical talent; Charleval, whose personal popularity was
greater than his literary ability; Maucroix, the friend of La Fontaine;
Segrais, an eclogue writer of no small merit; Chapelle, an idle
epicurean, who derives most of his fame from the fact of his having been
intimate with all the foremost literary men of the time, and from his
having composed, in company with Bachaumont, a _Voyage_ in mixed prose
and verse, the form of which was long very popular in France and was
imitated with especial success by Anthony Hamilton and Voltaire;
Pavillon, who deserves a very similar general description, but who gave
no such single example of his abilities: all belong to this class.

[Sidenote: Epic School. Chapelain.]

Side by side with the frivolous school, but in curious contrast with it,
there existed a school of ponderous epic writers, the extirpation of
which is the best claim of Boileau to the gratitude of posterity. The
typical poets of this class are Georges de Scudéry, the author of
_Alaric_, and Chapelain, the author of the _Pucelle_. Scudéry was a
soldier and a man of considerable talent, who lacked nothing but
patience and the power of self-criticism to produce really good work.
Like his more famous sister, he had invention and literary facility. His
plays are not without merit in parts, and his epic of _Alaric_, amidst
astonishing platitudes and extravagances, has occasional good lines. But
Chapelain is by far the most remarkable figure of the school. He was
bred up to be a poet from his earliest age, and by a stroke of luck,
impossible in less anomalous times, he was taken at his own valuation
for years. _La Pucelle_ was quoted in manuscript, and anxiously expected
for half a short lifetime. It only appeared to be hopelessly damned.
There are passages in it of merit, but they are associated with lines
which read like designed burlesques. The onslaughts of Boileau have
created a kind of reaction in favour of Chapelain with some who disagree
with Boileau's poetical principles: but he is not defensible. His odes
are indeed tolerable in parts; not so the _Pucelle_, save, as has been
said, in occasional lines. The _Clovis_ of Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin is
worse than the _Pucelle_. On the other hand, the Père le Moyne in his
_St. Louis_, taking apparently Du Bartas as his model, produced work
which, if not very readable as a whole, manifests real and very
considerable poetical talent. Lastly, Saint Amant in the _Moïse Sauvé_
showed how far below himself a clever writer may be when he mistakes his

[Sidenote: Bacchanalian School. Saint Amant.]

Saint Amant[228], who, to do him justice, did not call _Moïse Sauvé_ an
epic but an 'idylle héroique,' is the link between this school and a
third composed of purely convivial poets, who even in this century
furnished work of remarkable excellence, and who produced a numerous and
brilliant progeny in the next. Saint Amant's Anacreontic poems are of
great merit. Of the same class was Saint Pavin, who was not merely a
free liver, but a member of the small but influential free-thinking sect
which preceded and gave birth to the _Philosophes_ of the next century.
This time, moreover, was the period of a curious literary trick, the
resuscitation or forging of the convivial poems of Oliver Basselin by a
Norman lawyer of the name of Jean le Houx. A genuine and contemporary
Basselin, in the person of a carpenter named Adam Billaut, produced some
notable work of the same kind. Unfortunately the Anacreontic poetry of
this time suffers from the too frequent coarseness of its language; a
fault which indeed was not fully corrected until Béranger's days.

[Sidenote: La Fontaine.]

The members, however, of all these schools have long lost their hold on
all but students of literature, and, with the exception of La Fontaine
and Boileau, it is not easy to mention any non-dramatic poet of the
seventeenth century who has kept a place in the general memory. Jean la
Fontaine[229] was born at Château Thierry in Champagne in the year 1621,
and died at Paris in 1695. His father held a considerable post as ranger
of the neighbouring forests, an office which passed to his son. La
Fontaine seems to have been carelessly educated, but after a certain
time literature attracted him, and he began to study in a desultory
fashion, without however, as it would appear, being himself tempted to
write. At the age of six-and-twenty he married Marie Héricart, a girl of
sixteen, who is said to have been both amiable and beautiful, and not
long afterwards he was left his own master by his father's death. He was
suited very ill by nature either to fill a responsible office or to be
head of a house. The well-known stories of his absence of mind, his
simplicity, his indifference to outward affairs, have no doubt been
exaggerated, but there is, equally without doubt, a foundation of fact
in them. On the other hand, though the most serious charges against his
wife seem to rest on no foundation, it is certain that she had little
aptitude for housewifery. After a time the household was broken up,
though there was offspring of the marriage. A division of goods was
effected, and husband and wife separated, not to meet again except on
visits and for brief spaces of time, though they seem to have remained
on perfectly friendly terms. La Fontaine went to Paris, and very soon
attracted the notice of Fouquet, the magnificent superintendent of the
finances, who gave him a pension of a thousand livres and made him a
member of his literary household. Here La Fontaine began to write. At
the downfall of Fouquet he was constant to his friend, and produced the
best-known of his miscellaneous poems, the 'Pleurez, Nymphes de
Vaux[230].' The misfortune unsettled him for a time, and he travelled
about. But returning to his native place, he was taken into favour by
the Duchess of Bouillon, and this was the beginning of a series of
patronages which lasted till the end of his life. Once more visiting
Paris, he became a favourite with many men and women of rank, and began
his serious literary work by producing the first part of his _Contes_.
The remaining parts and the _Fables_ appeared at intervals during the
remainder of his life. His second visit to Paris brought about his
traditional association with Boileau, Molière, and Racine, the four
meeting at regular intervals, either in taverns or at lodgings in the
Rue Vieux Colombier. During the later years of his life La Fontaine was
a confirmed Parisian. His office at Château Thierry had been sold, and
he was the guest of various hospitable persons, the chief of whom was
Madame de la Sablière. In 1668 appeared the first part of the _Fables_
with universal approval. But the free character of the _Contes_, and
still more the association of La Fontaine with some of the freethinkers
who were in ill-repute with the king's spiritual advisers, retarded his
admission to the Academy. When Colbert died, La Fontaine and Boileau
were the two candidates; an awkward accident, considering their
friendship, and the fact that the court was as decidedly for Boileau as
the Academy itself for La Fontaine. The latter was elected, but the king
delayed his assent, and even seemed likely to exercise a veto, when
fortunately a second vacancy occurred, and Boileau being elected, both
were approved by the king, Boileau warmly, La Fontaine with the
grudging terms 'Vous pouvez recevoir La Fontaine; il a promis d'être
sage.' A curious warning of a similar tenor was contained in the
'Discours de Réception.'

La Fontaine's work is considerable, including many miscellaneous poems,
the romance of _Psyche_, and various dramatic attempts which were more
or less failures. But the _Contes_ and the _Fables_ are the only works
which have held their ground with posterity, and it is upon them that
his reputation is justly based. The first part of the _Contes_ appeared
at the extreme end of 1664[231], the second in 1667, the third in 1671,
but the author added pieces in successive editions. The first part of
the _Fables_ appeared in 1668, dedicated to the Dauphin, the second in
1679, dedicated to Madame de Montespan, the third in 1693, dedicated to
the Duc de Bourgogne, who is said to have been taught by Fénelon to
delight in La Fontaine, and to have sent him just before his death all
the money he had. The two books are complementary to each other, and La
Fontaine's genius cannot be judged by either alone. It has been remarked
that he was a diligent though apparently a very desultory reader. He
read the Italians, and, apparently with still more relish and profit,
the works of the old French writers, to whom the Italians owed so much.
The spirit of the Fabliaux had been dead, or at any rate dormant, since
Marot and Rabelais; La Fontaine revived it. Even purists, like his
friend Boileau, admitted a certain archaism in lighter poetry, and La
Fontaine would in all probability have troubled himself very little if
they had not. His language is, therefore, more supple, varied, and racy
than even that of Molière, and this is his first excellence. His second
is a faculty of easy narration in verse, which is absolutely unequalled
except perhaps in Pulci and Ariosto, while it is certainly unsurpassed
anywhere. His third distinguishing point is his power of insinuating, it
may be a satirical point, it may be a moral reflection, which is also
hardly equalled and as certainly unsurpassed. In the authors whom La
Fontaine followed, either deliberately or unconsciously, the models of
his tales and his fables were indiscriminately mingled; but he separated
them by so rigid a line that, while there is hardly a phrase in his
_Fables_ which is not suited _virginibus puerisque_, the _Contes_ are
not exactly a book for youth. In the latter the author has taken
subjects, always amusing but not unfrequently loose, from the old
fabulists, from Boccaccio, from the French prose tale-tellers of the
_Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles_ and similar collections, from Rabelais, from
a few Italian writers of the Renaissance, and has dressed them up in the
incomparable narrative of which he alone has the secret. Where he treads
in the steps of the greatest writers he is almost always best. 'Joconde'
supplies the opportunity of a remarkable comparison with Ariosto; 'La
Fiancée du Roi de Garbe' of a still more remarkable comparison with
Boccaccio. In this latter respect the palm of vivid and varied narration
is with La Fontaine, but he misses something of the spirit of the
original in his portrait of Alaciel; indeed La Fontaine's weakest point
is in the comparatively pedestrian character of his treatment. He has
little romance, and in translating, not merely the Italians but such
countrymen and women of his own as the authors of the Heptameron, he
loses the poetical charm which, as has been pointed out, graces and
saves the morality or immorality of the Renaissance. Therefore, despite
the wonderful variety and vivid painting of the _Contes_, presenting a
series of pictures which for these qualities have few rivals in
literature, the disapproval with which censors more rigid than Johnson
(whose excuse of Prior will fairly stretch to Prior's original) have
visited them is not altogether unjustifiable.

The Fables, with hardly less excellence of the purely literary kind, are
fortunately free from the least vestige of any similar fault. La
Fontaine, instead of in the smallest degree degrading the beast-fable,
has, on the contrary, exalted it to almost the highest point of which it
is capable. Not many books have made and kept a more durable and solid
reputation. The few dissentient voices in the chorus of eulogy have been
those of eccentric crotcheteers like Rousseau, or sentimentalists like
Lamartine. It is, indeed, impossible to read the Fables without
prejudice and not be captivated by them. As mere narratives they are
charming, and the perpetual presence of an undercurrent of sly,
good-humoured, satirical meaning relieves them from all charge of
insipidity. La Fontaine, like Goldsmith, was with his pen in his hand as
shrewd and as deeply learned in human nature as without it he was simple
and _naïf_.

Something has to be said of the form and strictly poetical value of
these two remarkable books--as remarkable, let it be remembered, for
their bulk as for their excellence, for between them they cannot contain
much less than 30,000 verses. The measure is almost always an irregular
mixture of lines of different lengths, rhyming sometimes in couplets,
sometimes in interlaced stanzas, which La Fontaine established as the
vehicle of serio-comic narration. For this, in his hands, it is
extraordinarily well fitted. As for the strictly poetic value of the
work, it is perhaps significant that though he is, taking quantity and
excellence together, the most important non-dramatic writer of verse of
the whole century in France, he is rarely thought of (out of France) as
a poet. A poet, indeed, in the highest sense of the word he is not. He
has hardly any passion, evidences of it being almost confined to the
elegy to Fouquet and, perhaps, as M. Théodore de Banville pleads, to the
'Faucon' and 'Courtisane Amoureuse' of the _Contes_. He has no
indefinite suggestion of beauty; even his descriptions of nature, though
always accurate and picturesque, being somewhat prosaic. He may be said
to be a prose writer of the very first class who chose to write in
verse, and who justified his choice by a wonderful technical ability in
the particular form of verse which he used. There is no greater mistake
than the supposition that La Fontaine's verse-writing is mere facile

[Sidenote: Boileau.]

Nicolas Boileau[232], who was long known in France as the 'Law-giver of
Parnassus,' and who, perhaps, exercised a more powerful and lasting
influence over the literature of his native country than any other
critic has ever enjoyed, was born at Paris on All Saints' Day, 1636. His
father held the post of registrar of one of the numerous courts of law,
and his family had legal connections of wide range and long date. He
himself was brought up to the law, but had not the least inclination
for it; and at his father's death, which happened exactly when he
attained his majority, his inheritance was considerable enough to allow
him to do as he pleased. The family was a large one, and, according to a
custom of the time, the brothers, or at least some of them, were
distinguished by additional surnames. That which Nicolas
took--Despréaux--was, at any rate during his youth, more frequently used
than his patronymic, and has continued to be applied to him
indifferently, thereby causing some odd blunders on the part of ignorant
people. He himself sometimes signed Despréaux and sometimes
Boileau-Despréaux. Besides law, he had also studied theology, and,
though he never took orders, he enjoyed for a considerable time a priory
at Beauvais, the profits of which, however, he returned when he
definitely abandoned the idea of the church as a profession. He very
early made attempts in literature, and when he was a man of seven- or
eight-and-twenty, he joined La Fontaine, Racine, and Molière in the
celebrated society of four. Social and literary criticism was even thus
early his forte, and his first collections of Horatian satire were
published in 1666, though, owing to the influence of Chapelain, the
royal privilege was shortly after withdrawn from them. Boileau, however,
soon became a great favourite with the king, as, though in actual
conversation he retained his natural freedom of speech, he did not
hesitate to use the most grovelling flattery of expression in verse.
Pensions and places were given to him freely, so that, his own property
being not inconsiderable, he was one of the few wealthy men of letters
of the day. He was kept out of the Academy for some time by the fact
that he had libelled half its members and was unpopular with the other
half, but the royal influence at last got him in in 1684. In his later
years the morose arrogance, which was his chief characteristic,
increased on him, and was doubtless aggravated by the bad health from
which he suffered during the whole of his long life. He died in 1711,
having outlived all his friends except Louis himself.

Boileau's works consist of twelve satires, of the same number of
epistles, of an _Art Poétique_, of the _Lutrin_, a serio-comic poem, of
two odes, and of three or four score epigrams and miscellaneous pieces
in verse, with a translation of Longinus on the Sublime, some short
critical dissertations, and a number of letters in prose. With the
exception of the _Lutrin_ it will be observed that almost all his
poetical work is very closely modelled on Horace. His satire is
extremely clever, but, as necessarily happens when the frame and manner
of one time are used for the circumstances of another, it is altogether
artificial. The Horatian satire is nothing if not personal, and as
Boileau (even more than Pope, who strongly resembles him) had a bad
heart, his personalities are unusually reckless and offensive. Thus in a
couplet against parasites he inserted at one time the name of Colletet
(son of the Colletet mentioned above), at another that of Pelletier,
though both were notoriously free from the vice, and guilty of no fault
except poverty and a disposition to produce indifferent verse. Boileau's
crusade, too, against the minor poets of his day was unfortunately
followed by his own production of a ridiculous ode, excellently
burlesqued by Prior, on the taking of Namur in 1692 by the French. This,
with certain pieces of Young's, is perhaps the most glaring example
extant of how a writer of great talent and literary skill may combine
the basest flattery with the most abjectly bad verse. But where he
confined himself to his proper sphere, Boileau exhibited no small power.
He was, in fact, a slashing reviewer in verse, and there has rarely been
so effective a practitioner of the craft. Narrow as was his idea of
poetry, it was perfectly clear and precise, and, as his pupil Racine
showed, he could teach it to others with the most striking success. _Le
Lutrin_, too, is a poem which, in a rather trivial kind, is something of
a masterpiece. Its subject, the quarrel of a chapter of ecclesiastics
about the position of a _lutrin_ (lectern), afforded Boileau plenty of
opportunity for introducing that sarcasm on the upper middle classes
which was his forte; the verse is polished and correct, the satire,
though rather facile and conventional, agreeable enough. His satires and
epistles are full of striking traits evidently studied from the life,
but he is always personal and almost always artificial, never rising to
the large satiric conception of Regnier or of Dryden. So, too, most of
the stories which are recorded of him (and they are many) are stories of
ill-natured remarks. In his heart of hearts he knew and acknowledged
the greatness of Corneille, yet formally and in public he could not
refrain from directing unjust satire at the veteran whose masterpieces
had been produced when he was in his cradle, in order to exalt his own
pupil Racine, whom he privately owned to be simply a very clever and
docile rhymester. He himself was very much the same with the exception
of the docility. His good sense, his talents, his eye for the
ludicrous--except in his own work--were admirable, and the ill-nature of
his satires, with their frequent injustice and the strange ignorance
they display of all literature except the Latin classics and French and
Italian contemporary authors, does not prevent their being excellent
examples of French and of the art of polite libelling. It is probable
that Boileau might have fared better but for his inconceivable folly in
attempting, in the Namur ode, a style for which he had not the least
aptitude, and for the parrot-like monotony with which Frenchmen before
1830, and even some of them since that date, have lauded and quoted him
and accepted his dicta. But the most lenient estimate of him can hardly
amount to more than that he was an excellent writer of prose and
pedestrian verse, a critic of singular acuteness within a narrow range,
and a satirist who had a keen eye for the ludicrous aspect of things and
persons, and a remarkable skill at reproducing that aspect in words.

[Sidenote: Minor Poets of the later Seventeenth Century.]

The list of poets of the century has to be completed by some of more or
less importance who flourished in the later days of Louis XIV., and, in
some few cases, outlived him. Brébeuf might have been mentioned before,
as he was Boileau's elder, and, dying young, did not reach even the most
brilliant period of the reign. But he is unlike any of the three schools
who have been described, and his language is more modern than that of
most of the poets who wrote before or during the Fronde. His principal
work is a translation of the _Pharsalia_, in which both the defects and
the merits of the original are represented with remarkable fidelity.
Boileau, who found fault with his _fatras obscur_, allowed him frequent
flashes of genius, and these flashes are rather more frequent than might
be supposed, being also of a kind which Boileau was not usually inclined
to recognise. Brébeuf is decidedly of what may be called the right
school of French poets, though he is one of the least of that school.
His minor poetry displays the same characteristics as his translation,
but is of less importance. Madame Deshoulières, still more unjustly
criticised by Boileau, is unquestionably one of the chief poetesses of
France; indeed, with Louise Labé and Marceline Desbordes Valmore, she is
almost the only one of importance. Her poems, like those of most of her
contemporaries, are of the occasional order, and have too much in them
that is artificial, but frequently also they have real pathos and
occasionally not a little vigour. 'Le Songe' is a very admirable ode,
having some of the characteristics of the English Caroline school.
Racine himself, independently of his dramas, and the choruses inserted
in them, wrote some poetry, chiefly religious, which has his usual
characteristics of refinement in language and versification. Anthony
Hamilton has left some verses (notably an exquisite song, beginning
'Celle qu'adore mon coeur n'est ni brune ni blonde') as dainty and
original as his prose. At the end of the century two poets, whose names
always occur together in literary history, the Abbé de Chaulieu and the
Marquis de la Fare, close the record. They were not only alike in their
literary work, but were personal friends, and not the worst of
Chaulieu's pieces is an elegy on La Fare, whom, though the older man of
the two, he survived. They were both members of the libertine society of
the Temple, over which the Duke de Vendôme presided, and which, somewhat
later, formed Voltaire. The verses of both were strictly occasional.
Chaulieu, like many men of letters of the time, published nothing during
his long life, though his poems were known to French society in
manuscript. Besides the verses on La Fare, Chaulieu's best poem is,
perhaps, that 'On a Country Life' (the author being an inveterate
inhabitant of towns). La Fare, on the other hand, is best known by his
stanzas to Chaulieu on 'La Paresse,' which he was well qualified to
sing, inasmuch as it is said that during many years of his long life he
did nothing but sleep and eat. The verses of the two continued to be
models of style, and (in a way) of choice of subject, during the whole
eighteenth century. Macaulay's rhetorical description of Frederic's
verses, as 'hateful to gods and men, the faint echo of the lyre of
Chaulieu,' is not quite just in its suggestion. Chaulieu, and still
more La Fare, wrote very fair occasional poetry. One curious application
of verse during this century requires mention in conclusion. This was
the Gazette, or rhymed news-letter, in which the gossip of the day, the
diversions of the court, etc., were recorded for the amusement and
instruction of great persons in the most pedestrian of octosyllables.
The chief writer of these trifles, which are very voluminous, and which
have preserved many curious particulars, was Loret, who was succeeded by
Robinet, Boursault, Laurent, and others.


[224] Ed. Lalanne. 5 vols. Paris, 1862 67; also (poems only)
conveniently by Jannet. Paris, 1874. Besides his verse Malherbe wrote
some translations of Seneca and Livy, and a great number of letters,
including many to Peiresc, a savant of the time who is best known from
Gassendi's _Life_ of him.

[225] Ed. Latour. 2 vols. Paris, 1857.

[226] Ed. Alleaume. 2 vols. Paris, 1855.

[227] Ed. Ubicini. 2 vols. Paris, 1855.

[228] Ed. Livet. 2 vols. Paris, 1855.

[229] This is in reality the beginning of the _second_ line of the poem,
though it is often quoted as if it were the first.

[230] Ed. Moland. 7 vols. Paris, 1879. Also ed. Regnier, vol. i. Paris,

[231] In previous editions this date was, by an oversight, wrongly
printed as 1662. M. Scherer in correcting it has himself made a probable
mistake in giving '1665.' That date is on the title-page, but the
_achevé d'imprimer_ is dated Dec. 10, 1664, and as a second edition was
finished by Jan. 10, 1665, it is practically certain that the book was
out before the end of the year.

[232] Ed. Fournier. Paris, 1873.



While the influence of Malherbe was thus cramping and withering poetry
proper in France, it combined with some other causes to enable drama to
attain the highest perfection possible in the particular style
practised. In non-dramatic poetry, the only name of the seventeenth
century which can be said even to approach the first class is that of La
Fontaine, whose verse, except for its technical excellence, is almost as
near to prose as to poetry itself. But the names of Corneille, Racine,
and Molière stand in the highest rank of French authors, and their works
will remain the chief examples of the kind of drama which they
professed. Nor is this difference in any way surprising. It has been
already shown that the style of drama introduced into France by the
Pléiade, and pursued with but little alteration afterwards, was a highly
artificial and a highly limited kind. It lent itself successfully to
comparatively few situations; it excluded variety of action on the
stage; it gave no opening for the display of complicated character. But
these very limitations made it susceptible of very high polish and
elaboration within its own limited range, and made such polish and
elaboration almost a necessity if it was to be tolerable at all. The
correct and cold language and style which Malherbe preached; the
regularity and harmony of versification on which he insisted; the strict
attention to rule rather than impulse which he urged, all suited a thing
in itself so artificial as the Senecan tragedy. They were not so
suitable to the more libertine genius of comedy. But here, fortunately
for France, the regulations were less rigid, and the abiding popularity
of the indigenous farce gave a healthy corrective. The astonishing
genius of Molière succeeded in combining the two influences--the lawless
freedom of the old farce, and the ordered decency of the Malherbian
poetry. Even his theatre shows some sign of the taint with which
'classical' drama is so deeply imbued, but its force and truth almost or
altogether redeem the imperfections of its scheme.

[Sidenote: Montchrestien.]

We have seen that the early tragedy, which was more or less directly
reproductive of Seneca, attained its highest pitch in the work of
Garnier. This pitch was on the whole well maintained by Antoine de
Montchrestien, a man of a singular history and of a singular genius. The
date of his birth is not exactly known, but he was the son of an
apothecary at Falaise, and belonged to the Huguenot party. Duels and
lawsuits succeed each other in his story, and by some means or other he
was able to assume the title of Seigneur de Vasteville. In one of his
duels he killed his man, and had to fly to England. Being pardoned, he
returned to France and took to commerce. But after the death of Henri
IV. he joined a Huguenot rising, and was killed in October 1621.
Montchrestien wrote a treatise on Political Economy (he is even said to
have been the first to introduce the term into French), some poems, and
six tragedies, _Sophonisbe_, or _La Cartaginoise_, _Les Lacènes_,
_David_, _Aman_, _Hector_, and _L'Écossaise_. Racine availed himself not
a little of _Aman_, but _L'Écossaise_ is Montchrestien's best piece. In
it he set the example to a long line of dramatists, from Vondel to Mr.
Swinburne, who have since treated the story of Mary Queen of Scots. It
is not part of the merit of Montchrestien to have improved on the
technical defects of the Jodelle-Garnier model. His action is still
deficient, his speeches immoderately long. But his choric odes are of
great beauty, and his _tirades_, disproportionate as they are, show a
considerable advance in the power of indicating character as well as in
style and versification. Beyond this, however, the force of the model
could no further go, and some alteration was necessary. Indeed it is by
no means certain that the later plays of this class were ever acted at
all, or were anything more than closet drama.

[Sidenote: Hardy.]

[Sidenote: Minor predecessors of Corneille.]

For a not inconsiderable time the fate of French tragedy trembled in
the balance. During the first thirty years of the seventeenth century
the most prominent dramatist was Alexandre Hardy[233]. He is the first
and not the least important example in French literary history of a
dramatic author pure and simple, a playwright who was a playwright, and
nothing else. Hardy was for years attached to the regular company of
actors who had succeeded the _Confrérie_ at the Hôtel de Bourgogne, and
wrote or adapted pieces for them at the tariff (it is said) of fifty
crowns a play. His fertility was immense; and he is said to have written
some hundreds of plays. The exact number is variously stated at from
five to seven hundred. Forty-one exist in print. Although not destitute
of original power, Hardy was driven to the already copious theatre of
Spain for subjects and models. His plays being meant for acting and for
nothing else, the scholarly but tedious exercitations of the Pléiade
school were out of the question. Yet, while he introduced a great deal
of Spanish embroilment into his plots, and a great deal of Spanish
bombast into his speeches, Hardy still accepted the general outline of
the classical tragedy, and, though utterly careless of unity of place
and time, adhered for the most part to the perhaps more mischievous
unity of action. His best play, _Mariamne_, is powerfully written, is
arranged with considerable skill, and contains some fine lines and even
scenes; but, little as Hardy hampered himself with rules, it still has,
to an English reader, a certain thinness of interest. A contemporary of
Hardy's, Jean de Schélandre, made, in a play[234] which does not seem
ever to have been acted, a remarkable attempt at enfranchising French
tragedy with the full privileges rather of the English than of the
Spanish drama; but this play, _Tyr et Sidon_, had no imitators and no
influence, and the general model remained unaltered. But during the
first quarter of the century the theatre was exceedingly popular, and
the institution of strolling troops of actors spread its popularity all
over France. Nearly a hundred names of dramatic writers of this time are
preserved. Most of these, no doubt, were but retainers of the houses or
the troops, and did little but patch, adapt, and translate. But of the
immediate predecessors of Corneille, and his earlier contemporaries, at
least half-a-dozen are more or less known to fame, besides the really
great name of Rotrou. Mairet, Tristan, Du Ryer, Scudéry, Claveret, and
D'Aubignac, were the chief of these. Mairet has been called the French
Marston, and the resemblance is not confined to the fact that both wrote
tragedies on the favourite subject of Sophonisba. The chief work of
Tristan, who was also a poet of some merit, was _Marianne_ (Mariamne),
very closely modelled on an Italian original, and much less vigorous,
though more polished than Hardy's play on the same subject. Du Ryer had
neither Mairet's vigour nor Tristan's tenderness, but he made more
progress than either of them had done in the direction of the completed
tragedy of Corneille and Racine. Scudéry's _Amour Tyrannique_ is
vigorous and bombastic. Claveret and D'Aubignac (the latter of whom was
an active critic as well as a bad playwright) principally derive their
reputation, such as it is, from the acerbity with which they attacked
Corneille in the dispute about the Cid; nor should the name of Théophile
de Viaud be passed over in this connection. His _Pyrame et Thisbé_ is
often considered as almost the extreme example (though Corneille's
_Clitandre_ is perhaps worse) of the conceited Spanish-French style in
tragedy. The passage in which Thisbe accuses the poniard with which
Pyramus has stabbed himself of blushing at having sullied itself with
the blood of its master is a commonplace of quotation. Yet, like all
Théophile's work, _Pyrame et Thisbé_ has value, and so has the
unrepresented tragedy of _Pasiphaé_.

[Sidenote: Rotrou.]

Among these forgotten names, and others more absolutely forgotten still,
that of Rotrou[235] is pre-eminently distinguished. Jean de Rotrou (the
particle is not uniformly allowed him) was born at Dreux in 1609, and
was thus three years younger than Corneille. He went earlier to Paris,
however, and at once betook himself to dramatic poetry, his
_Hypocondriaque_ being represented before he was nineteen. He formed
with Corneille, Colletet, Bois-Robert, and L'Etoile, the band of
Richelieu's 'Five Poets,' who composed tragedies jointly on the
Cardinal's plans[236]. He also worked unceasingly at the theatre on his
own account. Thirty-five pieces are certainly, and five more doubtfully,
attributed to him. For some time he had to work for bread, and the only
weakness charged against him, a mania for gambling, left him poor, and
perhaps prevented him from devoting to his work as much pains as he
might otherwise have given. After a time, however, he was pensioned, and
appointed to various legal posts which members of his family had
previously held at Dreux. His fidelity to his official duty was the
cause of his death. He was at Paris when a violent epidemic broke out at
Dreux. All who could left the town, and Rotrou was strongly dissuaded
from returning. But he felt himself responsible for the maintenance of
order, likely at such a time to be specially endangered. He returned at
once, caught the infection, and died. Rotrou's plays are too numerous
for a complete list of them to be here given, and by common consent two
of them, _Le Véritable Saint Genest_ and _Venceslas_, greatly excel the
rest, though vigorous verse and good scenes are to be found in almost
all. These plays, it should be observed, were not written until after
the publication of Corneille's early masterpieces, though Rotrou had
exhibited a play the year before the appearance of _Mélite_. The two
poets were friends, and though Corneille in a manner supplanted him,
Rotrou was unwavering throughout his life in expressions of admiration
for his great rival. Of the two plays just mentioned, _Venceslas_ is the
more regular, the better adapted to the canons of the French stage, and
the more even in its excellence. _Saint Genest_ is perhaps the more
interesting. The central idea is remarkable. Genest, an actor, performs
before Diocletian a part in which he represents a Christian martyr. He
is miraculously converted during the study of the piece, and at its
performance, after astonishing the audience by the fervour and vividness
with which he plays his part, boldly speaks in his own person, and,
avowing his conversion, is led off to prison and martyrdom. Many of the
speeches in this play are admirable poetry, and the plot is far from
ill-managed. The play within a play, of which _Hamlet_ and the _Taming
of the Shrew_ are English examples, was, at this transition period, a
favourite stage incident in France. Corneille's _Illusion_ is the most
complicated example of it, but _Saint Genest_ is by far the most
interesting and the best managed.

[Sidenote: Corneille.]

There is every reason to believe that though, as has been said, Rotrou's
best pieces were influenced by Corneille, the greater poet owed
something at the beginning of his career to the example of his friend.
Pierre Corneille[237] was born at Rouen in 1606. His father, of the same
name, was an official of rank in the legal hierarchy; his mother was
named Marthe le Pesant. He was educated in the Jesuits' school, went to
the bar, and obtained certain small legal preferments which he
afterwards sold. He practised, but 'sans goût et sans succès,' says
Fontenelle, his nephew and biographer. His first comedy, _Mélite_, is
said to have been suggested by a personal experience. It succeeded at
Rouen, and the author took it to Paris. His next attempt was a tragedy
or a tragi-comedy, _Clitandre_, of a really marvellous extravagance. It
was followed by several other pieces, in all of which there is
remarkable talent, though the author had not yet found his way. He found
it at last in _Médée_, where the famous reply of the heroine 'Que vous
reste-t-il?' 'Moi,' struck at once the note which no one but Corneille
himself and Victor Hugo has ever struck since, and which no one had ever
struck before. Corneille, as has been said above, was one of Richelieu's
five poets, but he was indocile to the Cardinal's caprices; and either
this indocility or jealousy set Richelieu against _Le Cid_. This great
and famous play was suggested by, rather than copied from, the Spanish
of Guillem de Castro. It excited an extraordinary turmoil among men of
letters, but the public never went wrong about it from the first.
Boileau's phrase--

    Tout Paris pour Chimène a les yeux de Rodrigue,

is as sound in fact as it is smart in expression. The _Cid_ appeared in
1636, and for some years Corneille produced a succession of
masterpieces. _Horace_, _Cinna_, _Polyeucte_, _Le Menteur_ (a remarkable
comic effort, to which Molière acknowledged his indebtedness), and
_Rodogune_, in some respects the finest of all, succeeded each other at
but short intervals. Half-a-dozen plays, somewhat inferior in actual
merit, and which had the drawback of coming before a public used to the
author and his method, followed, and the last and least good of them,
_Pertharite_, was damned. Corneille, always the proudest of writers, was
deeply wounded by this ill-success, and publicly renounced the stage. He
devoted himself for some years to a strange task, the turning of the
_Imitation_ of A'Kempis into verse. At last Fouquet, the Mæcenas of the
day, prevailed on him to begin again. He did so with _Oedipe_, which
was successful. It was followed by many other plays, which had varying
fates. Racine, with a method refined upon Corneille's own, and a greater
sympathy with the actual generation, became the rival of the elder poet,
and Corneille did not obey the wise maxim, _solve senescentem_. Yet his
later plays have far more merit than is usually allowed to them.

The private life of Corneille was not unhappy, though his haughty and
sensitive temperament brought him many vexations. His gains were small,
never exceeding two hundred louis for a play, and though this was
supplemented by occasional gifts from rich dedicatees and by a scanty
private fortune, the total was insufficient. 'Je suis saoul de gloire et
affamé d'argent' is one of the numerous sayings of scornful discontent
recorded of him. He had a pension, but it was in his later days very ill
paid. Nor was he one of the easy-going men of letters who console
themselves by Bohemian indulgence. In general society he was awkward,
constrained, and silent: but his home, which was long shared with his
brother Thomas--they married two sisters--seems to have been a happy
one. He retained till his death in 1684, if not the favour of the King
and the general public, that of the persons whose favour was best worth
having, such as Saint-Evremond and Madame de Sévigné, and his own
confidence in his genius never deserted him.

Corneille's dramatic career may be divided into four parts; the first
reaching from _Mélite_ to _L'Illusion Comique_; the second (that of his
masterpieces), from the _Cid_ to _Rodogune_; the third, from _Théodore_
to _Pertharite_; the fourth, that of the decadence, from _Oedipe_ to
_Suréna_. The following is a list of the names and dates (these latter
being sometimes doubtful and contentious) of his plays. _Mélite_, 1629,
a comedy improbable and confused in incident and overdone with verbal
_pointes_, but much beyond anything previous to it. _Clitandre_, 1630, a
tragedy in the taste of the time, one of the maddest of plays. _La
Veuve_, 1634, a comedy, well written and lively. _La Galerie du Palais_
(same year), a capital comedy of its immature kind, bringing in the
humours of contemporary Paris. _La Suivante_, a comedy (same year), in
which the great character of the soubrette makes her first appearance.
_La Place Royale_, a comedy, 1635, duller than the _Galerie du Palais_,
which it in some respects resembles. _Médée_, a tragedy (same year),
incomparably the best French tragedy up to its date. _L'Illusion
Comique_, 1636, a tragi-comedy of the extremest Spanish type,
complicated and improbable to a degree in its action, which turns on the
motive of a play within a play, and produces, as the author himself
remarks, a division into prologue (Act i), an imperfect comedy (Acts
ii-iv), and a tragedy (Act v). _Le Cid_, 1636, the best-known if not the
best of Corneille's plays, and, from the mere playwright's point of
view, the most attractive. _Horace_, 1639, often, but improperly, called
_Les Horaces_, in which the Cornelian method is seen complete. The final
speech of Camille before her brother kills her was as a whole never
exceeded by the author, and the 'qu'il mourût' of the elder Horace is
equally characteristic. _Cinna_, 1639, the general favourite in France,
but somewhat stilted and devoid of action to foreign taste. _Polyeucte_,
1640, the greatest of all Christian tragedies. _La Mort de Pompée_,
1641, full of stately verse, but heavy and somewhat grandiose. _Le
Menteur_, 1642, a charming comedy, followed by a _Suite du Menteur_,
1643, not inferior, though the fickleness of public taste disapproved
it. _Théodore_, 1645, a noble tragedy, which only failed because the
prudery of theatrical precisians found fault with its theme--the
subjection of a Christian virgin to the last and worst trial of her
honour and faith. _Rodogune_, 1646, the _chef-d'oeuvre_ of the style,
displaying from beginning to end an astonishing power of moving
admiration and terror. This play marks the climax of Corneille's
faculty. In _Héraclius_, 1647, no real falling-off is visible; indeed,
the character of Phocas stands almost alone on the French stage as a
parallel in some sort to Iago. _Andromède_, 1650, introduced a
considerable amount of spectacle and decoration, not unhappily. _Don
Sanche d'Aragon_, 1651, _Nicomède_, 1652, and _Pertharite_, 1653 (each
of which may possibly be a year older than these respective dates), show
what political economists might call the stationary state of the poet's
genius. The first two plays produced after the interval, _Oedipe_,
1659, and _La Toison d'Or_, 1660, both show the benefit of the rest the
poet had had, together with certain signs of advancing years. _La Toison
d'Or_, like _Andromède_, includes a great deal of spectacle, and is
rather an elaborate masque interspersed with regular dramatic scenes
than a tragedy. It is one of the best specimens of the kind. In
_Sertorius_, 1662, there are occasional passages of much grandeur and
beauty, but _Sophonisbe_, 1663, is hardly a success, nor is _Othon_,
1664. _Agésilas_, 1666, and _Attila_, 1667, have been (the latter
unfairly) damned by a quatrain of Boileau's. But _Tite et Bérénice_,
1670, must be acknowledged to be inferior to the play of Racine in
rivalry with which it was produced. _Pulchérie_, 1672, and _Suréna_,
1674, are last-fruits off an old tree, which, especially the second, are
not unworthy of it. Nor was Corneille's contribution to the remarkable
opera of _Psyché_, 1671, inconsiderable. This completes his dramatic
work, which amounts to thirty pieces and part of another. It should be
added that, to all the plays up to _La Toison d'Or_, he subjoined in a
collected edition very remarkable criticisms of them, which he calls

The characteristics of this great dramatist are perhaps more uniform
than those of any writer of equal rank, and there can be little doubt
that this uniformity, which, considering the great bulk of his work,
amounts almost to monotony, was the cause of his gradual loss of
popularity. We shall not here notice the points which he has in common
with Racine, as a writer of the French classical drama. These will come
in more suitably when Racine himself has been dealt with. In Corneille
the academic criticism of the time found the fault that he rather
excited admiration than pity and terror, and it held that admiration
was 'not a tragic passion.' The criticism was clumsy, and to a great
extent futile, but it has a certain basis of truth. It is comparatively
rare for Corneille to attempt, after his earliest period, to interest
his hearers or readers in the fortunes of his characters. It is rather
in the way that they bear their fortunes, and particularly in a kind of
haughty disdain for fortune itself, that these characters impress us.
Sometimes, as in the Cléopâtre of _Rodogune_, this masterful temper is
engaged on the side of evil, more frequently it is combined with amiable
or at least respectable characteristics. But there is always something
'remote and afar' about it, and the application by La Bruyère of the
famous comparison between the Greek tragedians is in the main strictly
accurate. It follows that Corneille's demand upon his hearers or readers
is a somewhat severe one, and one with which many men are neither
disposed nor able to comply. It was a greater misfortune for him than
for almost any one else that the French and not the English drama was
the Sparta which it fell to his lot to decorate. His powers were not in
reality limited. The _Menteur_ shows an excellent comic faculty, and the
strokes of irony in his serious plays have more of true humour in them
than appears in almost any other French dramatist. Had the licence of
the English stage been his, he would probably have been able to impart a
greater interest to his plays than they already possess, without
sacrificing his peculiar faculty of sublime moral portraiture, and
certainly without losing the credit of the magnificent single lines and
isolated passages which abound in his work. The friendly criticism of
Molière on these sudden flashes is well known. 'My friend Corneille,' he
said, 'has a familiar who comes now and then and whispers in his ear the
finest verses in the world, but sometimes the familiar deserts him, and
then he writes no better than anybody else.' The most fertile familiar
cannot suggest fifty or sixty thousand of these finest lines in the
world; and the consequence is that, what with the lack of central
interest which follows from Corneille's own plan, with the absence of
subsidiary interest and relief which is inevitable in the French
classical model, and with the drawbacks of his somewhat declamatory
style, there are long passages, sometimes whole scenes and acts, if not
whole plays of his, which are but dreary reading, and could hardly be,
even with the most appreciative and creative acting, other than dreary
to witness. It was Corneille's fault that, while bowing himself to the
yoke of the Senecan drama, he did not perceive or would not accept the
fact that there is practically but one situation, by the working out of
which that drama can be made tolerable to modern audiences. This
situation is love-making, which in real life necessitates a vast deal of
talking, and about which, even on the stage, a vast deal of talking is
admissible. The characters of the French classic or heroic play are
practically allowed to do nothing but talk, and the author who would
make them interesting must submit himself to his fate. Corneille would
not submit wholly and cheerfully, though he has, as might be expected,
been obliged to introduce love-making into most of his plays.

To a modern reader the detached passages already referred to, and the
magnificent versification which is displayed in them, make up the real
charm of Corneille except in a very few plays, such as the _Cid_,
_Polyeucte_, _Rodogune_, and perhaps a few others. Du Bartas, D'Aubigné,
and Regnier, had indicated the capacities of the Alexandrine; Corneille
demonstrated them and illustrated them almost indefinitely. He did not
indulge in the pedantry of _rimes difficiles_, by which Racine attracted
his hearers, nor was his verse so uniformly smooth as that of his
younger rival. But what it lacked in polish and grace it more than made
up in grandeur and dignity. The best lines of Corneille, like those of
D'Aubigné, of Rotrou, from whom, comparatively stammering as was the
teacher, Corneille perhaps learnt the art, and of Victor Hugo, have a
peculiar crash of sound which hardly any other metre of any other
language possesses. A slight touch of archaism (it is very slight) which
is to be discovered in his work assists its effect not a little. The
inveterate habit which exists in England of comparing all dramatists
with Shakespeare has been prejudicial to the fame of Corneille with us.
But he is certainly the greatest tragic dramatist of France on the
classical model, and as a fashioner of dramatic verse of a truly
poetical kind he has at his best few equals in the literature of Europe.

[Sidenote: Racine.]

The character, career, and work of Racine were curiously different from
those of Corneille. Jean Racine[238] was more than thirty years younger
than his greater rival, having been born at La Ferté Milon, at no great
distance from Soissons, in 1639. His father held an official position at
this place, but he died, as Racine's mother had previously died, in the
boy's infancy, leaving him without any fortune. His grandparents,
however, were alive, and able to take care of him, and they, with other
relatives, willingly undertook the task. He was well educated, going to
school at Beauvais, from 1650 (probably) to 1655, and then spending
three years under the care of the celebrated Port Royalists, where he
made considerable progress. A year at the Collège d'Harcourt, where he
should have studied law, completed his regular education; but he was
always studious, and had on the whole greater advantages of culture than
most men of letters of his time and country. For some years he led a
somewhat undecided life. His relations did their best to obtain a
benefice for him, and in other ways endeavoured to put him in the way of
a professional livelihood; but ill-luck and probably disinclination on
his part stood in the way. He wrote at least two plays at a
comparatively early age which were refused, and are not known to exist,
and he produced divers pieces of miscellaneous poetry, especially the
'Nymphe de la Seine,' which brought him to the notice of Chapelain. At
last, in 1664, he obtained a pension of six hundred livres for an ode on
the king's recovery from sickness, and the same year _La Thébaïde_ was
accepted and produced. For the next thirteen years plays followed in
rapid, but not too rapid succession. Racine was the favourite of the
king, and consequently of all those who had no taste of their own, as
well as of some who had, though the best critics inclined to Corneille,
between whom and Racine rivalry was industriously fostered. The somewhat
indecent antagonism which Racine had shown towards a man who had won
renown ten years before his own birth was justly punished in his own
temporary eclipse by the almost worthless Pradon. He withdrew disgusted
from the stage in 1677. About the same time he married, was made
historiographer to the king, and became more or less fervently devout.
Years afterwards, at the request of Madame de Maintenon, he wrote for
her school-girls at St. Cyr the dramatic sketch of _Esther_, and soon
afterwards the complete tragedy of _Athalie_, the greatest of his works.
Then he relapsed into silence as far as dramatic utterance was
concerned. He died in 1699. Thus he presented the singular spectacle,
only paralleled by our own Congreve, and that not exactly, of a short
period of consummate activity followed by almost complete inaction. That
this inaction was not due to exhaustion of genius was abundantly shown
by _Esther_ and _Athalie_. But Racine was of a peculiar and in many ways
an unamiable temper. He was very jealous of his reputation, acutely
sensitive to criticism, and envious to the last degree of any public
approbation bestowed on others. Having made his fame, he seems to have
preferred, in the language of the French gaming table, _faire
Charlemagne_, and to run no further risks. He had, however, worse
failings than any yet mentioned. Molière gave him valuable assistance,
and he repaid it with ingratitude. With hardly a shadow of provocation
he attacked in a tone of the utmost acrimony the Port Royal fathers, to
whom he was under deep obligations. The charge of hypocrisy in religious
matters which has been brought against him is probably gratuitous, and,
in any case, does not concern us here. But his character in his literary
relations is far from being a pleasant one.

The following is a list of Racine's theatrical pieces. _La Thébaïde_,
1664, indicates with sufficient clearness the lines upon which all
Racine's plays, save the two last, were to be constructed--a minute
adherence to the rules, very careful versification and subordination of
almost all other interests to stately gallantry--but it is altogether
inferior to its successors. In _Alexandre le Grand_, 1665, the
characteristics are accentuated, and what Corneille disdainfully

    Le commerce rampant de soupirs et de flammes

is more than ever prominent. In _Andromaque_, 1667, an immense advance
is perceptible. The characters become personally interesting (Hermione
is perhaps more attractive than any of Corneille's women), and a power
of passionate invective not unworthy to be compared with Corneille's,
but with more of a feminine character about it, appears. This was
followed by Racine's only attempt in the comic sock, _Les Plaideurs_,
1668, a most charming trifle which has had, and has deserved, more
genuine and lasting popularity than any of his tragedies. He returned to
tragedy, and rapidly showed the defects of the stereotyped mannerism
inevitably imposed on him by his plan. _Britannicus_, 1669, _Bérénice_,
1670, _Bajazet_, 1672, and _Mithridate_, 1673, with all their perfection
of _technique_, announce, as clearly as anything can well do, the fatal
monotony into which French tragedy had once more fallen, and in which it
was to continue for a century and a half. _Iphigénie_, 1674, has much
more liveliness and variety, the deep pathos and terror of the situation
making even Racine's interminable love casuistry natural and
interesting. But _Phèdre_, 1677, the last of the series, is
unquestionably the most remarkable of Racine's regular tragedies. By it
the style must stand or fall, and a reader need hardly go farther to
appreciate it. _Britannicus_ was indeed preferred by eighteenth-century
judges; but for excellence of construction, artful beauty of verse,
skilful use of the limited means of appeal at the command of the
dramatist, no play can surpass _Phèdre_; and if it still is found
wanting, as it undoubtedly is by the vast majority of critics (including
nowadays a powerful minority even among Frenchmen themselves), the fault
lies rather in the style than in the author, or at least in the author
for adopting the style. _Esther_, 1689, and _Athalie_, 1691, on the
other hand, while retaining a certain similarity of form and machinery,
are radically different from the other plays. It is evident that Racine
before writing them had attentively studied the sixteenth-century drama,
to the strict form of which with its choruses he returns, and from which
he borrows, in some cases directly, the _Aman_ of Montchrestien having
clearly suggested passages in _Esther_. His great poetical faculty has
freer play; he escapes the monotonous 'soupirs et flammes' altogether,
and the result is in _Esther_ on the whole, in _Athalie_ wholly,

Racine's peculiarities as a dramatist have been already indicated, but
may now be more fully described. He was emphatically one of those
writers--Virgil and Pope are the other chief notable representatives of
the class--who, with an incapacity for the finest original strokes of
poetry, have an almost unlimited capacity for writing from models, for
improving the technical execution of their poems, and for adjusting the
conception of their pieces to their powers of rendering. These writers
are always impossible without forerunners, and not usually possible
without critics of the pedagogic kind. Racine was extraordinarily
fortunate in his forerunner, and still more fortunate in his critic. He
was able to start with all the advantages which thirty years of work on
the part of his rival, Corneille, gave him; and he had for his trainer,
Boileau, one of the most capable, if one of the most limited and
prejudiced, of literary schoolmasters. Boileau was no respecter of
persons, and arrogant as he was, he was rather an admirer of Racine than
of Corneille; yet, according to a well-known story, he distinguished
between the two by saying that Corneille was a great poet, and Racine a
very clever man, to whom he himself had taught the knack of easy
versification with elaborate rhyming. It is indeed in his versification
that both the strength and the weakness of Racine lie, and in this
respect he is an exact analogue to the poets mentioned above. He treated
the Alexandrine of Corneille exactly as Pope treated the decasyllable of
Dryden, and as Virgil treated the hexameter of Lucretius. In his hands
it acquired smoothness, softness, polish, and mechanical perfections of
many kinds, only to suffer at the same time a compensatory monotony
which, when the honied sweetness of it began to cloy, was soon
recognised as a terrible drawback. The extraordinary estimation in which
Racine is held by those who abide by the classical tradition in France
depends very mainly on the melody of his versification and rhymes, but
it does not depend wholly upon this. There must also be taken into
account the perfection of workmanship with which he carries out the idea
of the drama which he practised. What that ideal was must therefore be

It must be remembered that the object of the French drama of Racine's
time was not in the least to hold the mirror up to nature. The model
which, owing to admiration of the classics, the Pléiade had almost at
haphazard followed, rendered such an object simply unattainable. The
so-called irregularity of the English stage, which used to fill French
critics with alternate wonder and disgust, is nothing but the result of
an unflinching adherence to this standard. It is impossible to reproduce
the _subtilitas naturae_ in its most subtle example--the character of
man--without introducing a large diversity of circumstance and action.
That diversity in its turn cannot be produced without a great
multiplication of characters, a duplication or triplication of plot, and
a complete disregard of pre-established 'common form.' Now this 'common
form' was the essence of French tragedy. Following, or thinking that
they followed, the ancients, French dramatists and dramatic critics
adopted certain fixed rules according to which a poet had to write just
as a whist-player has to play the game. There was to be no action on the
stage, or next to none, the interest of the play was to be rigidly
reduced to a central situation, subsidiary characters were to be avoided
as far as possible, the only means afforded to the personages of
explaining themselves was by dialogue with confidantes--the curse of the
French stage--and the only way of informing the audience of the progress
of the action was by messengers. Corneille accepted these limitations
partially, and without too much good-will, but he evaded the difficulty
by emphasising the moral lesson. The ethical standard of his plays is
perhaps higher on the whole than that of any great dramatist, and the
wonderful bursts of poetry which he could command served to sugar the
pill. But Racine was not a man of high moral character, and he was a man
of great shrewdness and discernment. He evidently distrusted the
willingness of audiences perpetually to admire moral grandeur, whether
he did or did not hold that admiration was not a tragic passion.
Probably he would have put it that it was not a passion that would draw.
Love-making, on the contrary, would draw, and love-making accordingly is
the staple of all his plays. But the defect which has attended all
French literature, which was aggravated enormously by this style of
drama, and which is noticeable even in his greater contemporaries,
Corneille and Molière, manifested itself in his work almost inevitably.
If there is one fault to be found with the creations of French literary
art, it is that they run too much into types. It has been well said that
the duty of art is to give the universal in the particular. But to do
this exactly is difficult. It is the fault of English and of German
literature to give the particular without a sufficient tincture of the
universal, to lose themselves in mere 'humours.' It is the fault of
French literature to give the type only without differentiation. An
ill-natured critic constantly feels inclined to alter the lists of
Racine's dramatis personae, and instead of the proper names to
substitute 'a lover,' 'a mother,' 'a tyrant,' and so forth. So great an
artist and so careful a worker as Racine could not, of course, escape
giving some individuality to his creations. Hermione, Phèdre, Achille,
Bérénice, Athalie, are all individual enough of their class. But the
class is the class of types rather than of individuals. After long
debate this difference has been admitted by most reasonable French
critics, and they now confine themselves to the argument that the two
processes, the illustration of the universal by means of the particular,
and the indication of the particular by means of the universal, are
processes equally legitimate and equally important. The difficulty
remains that, by common consent of mankind--Frenchmen not
excluded--Hamlet, Othello, Falstaff, Rosalind, are fictitious persons
far more interesting to their fellow-creatures who are not fictitious
than any personages of the French stage. There is, moreover, a simple
test which can be applied. No one can doubt that, if Shakespeare had
chosen to adopt the style, and had accepted the censorship of a Boileau,
he could easily have written _Phèdre_. It would be a bold man who should
say that Racine could, with altered circumstances but unaltered powers,
have written _Othello_.

[Sidenote: Minor Tragedians.]

The style of tragedy which was likely to be successful in France had
been pointed out so clearly by Corneille and by Racine that it could not
fail to find imitators. As usual, the weakness of the style was more
fully manifested by these imitators than its strength. The best of them
was Thomas Corneille, the younger brother of Pierre. A much more facile
versifier than his brother, he produced a large number of plays, of
which _Camma_, _Laodice_, _Ariane_, _Le Comte d'Essex_, have
considerable merit. Thomas Corneille succeeded his brother in the
Academy, and died at a great old age. He was an active journalist and
miscellaneous writer as well as a dramatist, and his principal
misfortune was that he had a brother of greater genius than himself.
Pradon, whose success against _Phèdre_ so bitterly annoyed Racine, was a
dramatist of the third, or even the fourth class, though he enjoyed some
temporary popularity. Campistron, a follower rather than a rival of
Racine, was a better writer than Pradon, but pushed to an extreme the
softness and almost effeminacy of subject and treatment which made
Corneille contemptuously speak of his younger rival and his party as
'les doucereux.' Quinault, before writing good operas and fair comedies,
wrote bad tragedies. The only other authors of the day worth mentioning
are Duché and Lafosse. Lafosse is a man of one play, though as a matter
of fact he wrote four. In _Manlius_ he gave Roman names and setting to
the plot of Otway's _Venice Preserved_, and achieved a decided success.

[Sidenote: Development of Comedy.]

The history of French comedy is remarkably different from that of French
tragedy. In the latter case a foreign model was followed almost
slavishly; in the former the actual possessions of the language received
grafts of foreign importation, and the result was one of the capital
productions of European literature. Whether the popularity of the
indigenous farce of itself saved France from falling into the same false
groove with Italy it is not easy to say, but it is certain that at the
time of the Renaissance there was some danger. At first it seemed as if
Terence was to serve as a model for comedy just as Seneca served as a
model for tragedy. The first comedy, _Eugène_, is strongly Terentian,
though even here a greater freedom of movement, a stronger infusion of
local colour is observable than in _Didon_ or _Cléopâtre_. So, too, when
the Italian Larivey adapted his remarkable comedies the vernacular
savour became still stronger. Yet it was very long before genuine comedy
was produced in France. The farces continued, and kinds of dramatic
entertainment, lower even than the farce, such as those which survive in
the work of the merry-andrew Tabarin[239], were relished. The Spanish
comedy, with its strong spice of tragi-comedy, was imitated to a
considerable extent. A few examples of the _Commedia erudita_, or
Terentian play, continued to be produced at intervals; and the stock
personages of the _Commedia dell'arte_, Harlequin, Scaramouch, etc., at
one time invaded France, and, under cover of the comic opera and the
_Foire_ pieces, made something of a lodgment. In the earlier years of
the seventeenth century, moreover, a considerable number of fantastic
experiments were tried. We have a _Comédie des Proverbes_, in which the
action is altogether subordinate to the introduction of the greatest
possible number of popular sayings; a _Comédie des Chansons_ spun out of
a vast and precious collection of popular songs; a _Comédie des
Comédies_, which is a cento made up of extracts from Balzac, the
moralist and letter-writer; a _Comédie des Comédiens_, in which the
famous actors of the day are brought on the stage in their own
persons[240], etc., etc. While French comedy was thus endeavouring to
find its way in all manner of tentative and sometimes grotesque
experiments, dramatists of talent occasionally struck, as if by
accident, into some of the side paths of that way, and directed their
successors into the way itself. The early comedies of Corneille have
been spoken of; despite the improbability of their Spanish plots, they
show a distinct feeling after real excellence. The eccentric Cyrano de
Bergerac, especially in his _Pédant Joué_, furnished Molière with hints,
and displayed considerable comic power. Scarron, a not dissimilar
person, whose _Roman Comique_ shows the interest he felt in the theatre,
also wrote comedies, the chief of which were extremely popular, the
character of Jodelet in the play of the same name (1645) becoming for
the time a stock one both in name and type. Scarron's other chief pieces
were _Don Japhet d'Arménie_, _L'Héritier ridicule_, _La Précaution
inutile_. It was in the _Menteur_ of Corneille that Molière himself
considered that true comedy had been first reached, and it was this play
which set him on the track. But French comedy of the seventeenth
century, before Molière, is one of the subjects which have hardly any
but a historical and antiquarian interest. Although far less artificial
than contemporary tragedy, it is inferior as literature. It was
attempted by writers of less power, and it is disfigured by too frequent
coarseness of language and incident. It was on the whole the lowest of
literary styles during the first half of the century. With Molière it
became at one bound the highest.

[Sidenote: Molière.]

Jean Baptiste Poquelin[241], afterwards called Molière, was born at
Paris, probably in January 1622, in the Rue St. Honoré. The Poquelin
family seem to have come from Beauvais. Some hypotheses as to a Scotch
origin have been disproved. Molière's father was an upholsterer, holding
an appointment in the royal household, and of some wealth and position.
Molière himself had every advantage of education, being at school at the
famous Jesuit Collége de Clermont, and afterwards studying philosophy
(under Gassendi) and law. He was, according to some accounts, actually
called to the bar. At his majority he seems to have received a
considerable share of his mother's fortune, and thus to have become
independent. He joined some other young men of fair position in
establishing a theatrical company called _L'Illustre Théâtre_, which,
however, failed with heavy loss to him, notwithstanding the assistance
of a family of professional actors and actresses, one of whom, Madeleine
Béjart, figures prominently in his private history. He was not to be
thus disgusted with his profession. In 1646 he set out on a strolling
tour through the provinces, and was absent from the capital for nearly
thirteen years. The notices of this interesting part of his career which
exist are unfortunately few, and, like many other points connected with
it, have given rise to much controversy. It is sufficient to say that he
returned to Paris in 1658, and on the 24th of October performed with his
troupe before the court. He had long been a dramatist as well as an
actor, and had written besides minor pieces, most of which are lost, the
_Étourdi_ and the _Dépit Amoureux_. Molière soon acquired the favour of
the king, and the _Précieuses Ridicules_, the first of his really great
works, gained for him that of the public. In 1662 he married Armande
Béjart, the younger sister of Madeleine--a marriage which brought him
great unhappiness, though it was probably not without influence on some
of his finest work. The king was godfather to the first child of the
marriage, and Molière was a prosperous man. He became valet-de-chambre
to Louis, and it was some insolence of his noble colleagues which is
alleged, in a late and improbable though famous story, to have
occasioned the incident of his partaking of the king's _en cas de nuit_.
The highest point of his genius was shortly reached; _Tartuffe_, the
_Festin de Pierre_, and _Le Misanthrope_ being the work of three
successive years, 1664-6. _Tartuffe_ brought him some trouble because it
was supposed to be irreligious in tendency, or at least to satirise the
profession of religion. These, his three greatest comedies, were not all
warmly received, and he fell back upon lighter work, producing in rapid
succession farce-comedies for the public theatre, and _divertissements_
of divers kinds for the court until his death in February 1673, which
happened almost on the stage.

The following is a complete list of Molière's work which has come down
to us. During his provincial sojourn he had written many slight pieces
half-way in kind between the Italian comedy and the native farce. Of
these two only survive, _Le Médecin Volant_ and _La Jalousie du
Barbouillé_. Both have considerable merit, and Molière subsequently
worked up their materials, as no doubt he did those of the lost pieces.
_L'Étourdi_, 1653, is a regular comedy in five acts, still strongly
Italian in style and somewhat improbable in circumstances, but full of
sparkle and lively action and dialogue. _Le Dépit Amoureux_, 1654, is
even better and more independent. Nothing had yet been seen on the
French stage so good as the quarrels and reconciliation of the quartette
of master, mistress, valet, and _soubrette_. But _Les Précieuses
Ridicules_, 1659, struck an entirely different note. The stage had been
employed often enough for personal satire, but it had not yet been made
use of for the actual delineation and criticism of contemporary manners
as manners and not as the foibles of individuals. The play was directed
against the affectations and unreal language of the members of literary
_coteries_ which, with that of the Hôtel Rambouillet as the chief, had
long been prominent in French society. It has but a single act, but in
its way it has never been surpassed either as a piece of social satire
or a piece of brilliant dialogue illustrating ludicrous action and
character. _Sganarelle_, 1660, relapses into the commonplaces of farce,
and has no moral or satirical intention, but is amusing enough. _Don
Garcie de Navarre_, 1661, may be called Molière's only failure. He
styles it a _comédie héroïque_, and it is in fact a kind of anticipation
of Racine's manner, but applied to less serious subjects. The jealousy
of the hero is, however, the only motive of the piece, and its
exhibition is rather tiresome than anything else. The play is monotonous
and unrelieved by action. The genius of the author reappeared in its
appropriate sphere in _L'École des Maris_ (same date), where a Terentian
suggestion is adapted and carried out with the greatest skill. Then,
still in the same prolific year, Molière returned to social satire in
_Les Fâcheux_, an audacious lampoon on the forms of fashionable boredom
common among the courtiers of the time. In 1662 appeared _L'École des
Femmes_, which is generally considered the best of Molière's plays
before _Tartuffe_. A certain slyness about the character of Agnes is its
only drawback. This gave occasion to the brilliant and most amusing
_Critique de L'École des Femmes_, 1663. Here the author is once more the
satirist of contemporary society, which he introduces as criticising his
own work. _L'Impromptu de Versailles_ (same date), according to a
curious habit which Molière did not originate, brings the author himself
and his troupe in their own names and persons before the spectator. _Le
Mariage Forcé_, 1664, a slight piece, was worked up into a ballet for
the court. _La Princesse d'Elide_ (same date) is Molière's most
important court piece, or _comédie-ballet_, and, though necessarily
artificial, has great beauty. Next in point of composition came _The
Hypocrite_, that is to say _Tartuffe_, but the difficulties which this
met with made _Le Festin de Pierre_, 1665, appear first. This is a
tragi-comic working up of the Don Juan story, and is of a different
class from any other of Molière's comedies. It has been thought, but
without sufficient ground, that Molière here gave expression to a
modified form of the freethinking which was so common at the time. It
may, perhaps, be more truly regarded as an excursion into romantic
comedy--the comedy which, like Shakespeare's work, is not directly
satiric on society or on individuals, but tells stories poetically and
in dramatic form with comic touches. It is noteworthy that Don Juan is
of all Molière's heroes least exposed to the charge of being an
abstraction rather than a man. The pleasant trifle, _L'Amour Médecin_
(same date), was succeeded by _Le Misanthrope_, 1666. Here Molière's
special vein of satire was worked most deeply and to most profit, though
the reproach that the handling is somewhat too serious for comedy is not
undeserved. Alceste the impatient but not cynical hero, Célimène the
coquette, Oronte the fop, Éliante the reasonable woman, Arsinoé the
mischief-maker, are all immortal types. The admirable farce-comedy of
the _Médecin malgré Lui_ (same date), founded upon an old _fabliau_,
followed, and this was succeeded almost immediately by the graceful
pastoral of _Mélicerte_, the amusing _Pastorale Comique_, and the slight
sketch of _Le Sicilien, ou L'Amour Peintre_. At last, in 1667,
_Tartuffe_ got itself represented. It is a vigorous and almost ferocious
satire on religious pretension masking vice, and many of its separate
strokes are of the dramatist's happiest. Here however, more than
elsewhere, is felt the drawback of the method. Comparing Tartuffe with
Iago, we have all the difference between a skilful but not wholly
probable presentation of wickedness in the abstract, and a picture of a
wicked man. In _Amphitryon_, 1668, Molière measured himself with Plautus
and produced an admirable play. _George Dandin_ (same date), the working
up of _La Jalousie du Barbouillé_, is one of the happiest of his
sketches of conjugal infelicity. Then came _L'Avare_ (same date), in
which Molière was once more indebted to the ancients and to his French
predecessors, but in which he amply justified his borrowings. At this
time he extended his field and brought his knowledge of provincial and
bourgeois life to bear. _M. de Pourceaugnac_, 1669, is an ingenious
satire, pushed to the verge of burlesque and farce, on the country
squires of France. _Les Amants Magnifiques_, 1670, shows the writer once
more in his capacity of court playwright. But _Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme_
(same date) is the most audacious and by far the most successful of the
wonderful extravaganzas in which a sound and perennial motive of satire
on society is wrapped up, the theme this time being the bourgeoisie of
Paris, of which the author was himself a member. _Psyché_, 1671, is,
perhaps, the most remarkable example of collaboration in literature,
Molière, Pierre Corneille, and Quinault, the greatest comic dramatist,
the greatest tragic dramatist, and the greatest opera librettist of the
day, having joined their forces with a result not unworthy of them. _Les
Fourberies de Scapin_ (same date) is again farce, but farce such as only
Molière could write; and in _La Comtesse d'Escarbagnas_ (same date) the
theme of _M. de Pourceaugnac_ is taken up with a certain heightening of
colour and manner. _Les Femmes Savantes_, 1672, brings the reader back
to what is as emphatically 'la bonne comédie' as its original _Les
Précieuses Ridicules_. The tone and treatment are more serious than in
the older piece and deal with a different variety of feminine coxcombry,
but the effect is not less happy, and is free from the broader elements
of farce. Lastly, _Le Malade Imaginaire_, 1673, the swan-song of
Molière, combined both his greatest excellences, the power of raising
audacious farce into the region of true comedy and the power of
satirising social abuses with a pitiless but good-humoured hand. The
main theme here is the absurdity of the current practice of medicine,
but as usual the genius of the writer veils the fact of the drama being
a drama with a purpose.

The unique individuality and the extraordinary merit of the various
pieces which make up Molière's theatre have made it necessary to give a
tolerably minute account of them, and that account will to a certain
extent dispense us from dealing with his general characteristics at
great length, especially as a few remarks on French comedy of the
Molièresque kind as a whole will have to be given at the end of this
chapter. Independently of the characters which Molière shares with all
the great names of literature, his fertility and justness of thought,
the felicity of the expression in which he clothes it, and his accurate
observation of human life, there are two points in his drama which
belong, in the highest degree, to him alone. One is the extraordinary
manner in which he manages to imbue farce and burlesque with the true
spirit of refined comedy. This manner has been spoken of by unfriendly
critics as 'exaggerated,' but the reproach argues a deficiency of
perception. Even the most roaring farces of Molière, even such pieces as
_M. de Pourceaugnac_ and the _Bourgeois Gentilhomme_, demand rank as
legitimate comedy, owing to his unmatched faculty of intimating a
general purpose under the cloak of the merely ludicrous incidents which
are made to surround the fortunes of a particular person. This general
purpose (and here we come to the second point) is invariably a moral
one. Of all dramatists, ancient and modern, Molière is perhaps that one
who has borne most constantly in mind the theory that the stage is a
lay-pulpit and that its end is not merely amusement, but the reformation
of manners by means of amusing spectacles. Occasionally, no doubt, he
has pushed this purpose too far and has missed his mark. He has never
given us, and perhaps could not have given us, such examples of dramatic
poetry of the non-tragic sort as Shakespeare and Calderon have given.
Indeed, it seems to be a mistake to call Molière a poet at all, despite
his extraordinary creative faculty. He was too positive, too much given
to literal transcription of society, too little able to convey the vague
suggestion of beauty which, as cannot be too often repeated, is of the
essence of poetry. But, if we are content to regard drama as a middle
term between poetry and prose, he, with the two poets just named, must
be appointed to the first place in it among modern authors. In
brilliancy of wit he is, among dramatists, inferior only to Aristophanes
and Congreve. But he took a less Rabelaisian licence of range than
Aristophanes, and he never, like Congreve, allows his action to drift
aimlessly while his characters shoot pleasantries at one another. If we
leave purely poetic merit out of the question and restrict the
definition of comedy to the dramatic presentment of the characters and
incidents of actual life, in such a manner as at once to hold the mirror
up to nature and to convey lessons of morality and conduct, we must
allow Molière the rank of the greatest comic writer of all the world.
_Castigat ridendo mores_ is a motto which no one challenges with such a
certainty of victory as he.

Although the number and the diversity of Molière's works were well
calculated to encourage imitators, it was some time before the imitators
appeared. Unlike Racine, whose method was at once caught up, Molière saw
during his lifetime no one who could even pretend to be a rival. Those
who are now classed as being in some degree of his time were for the
most part in their cradles when his masterpieces were being acted.
Regnard, the best of them, was born two years after the appearance of
_Le Dépit Amoureux_ and only three years before the appearance of _Les
Précieuses Ridicules_. Baron was his pupil and adoring disciple.
Dufresny was but just of age, and Dancourt but ten years old, at his
death. Brueys and Palaprat (the Beaumont and Fletcher, _mutatis
mutandis_, of the French stage) did not make up their curious
association till long after that event, at the date of which Le Sage was
five years old. Quinault, Boursault, and Montfleury alone were in active
rivalry with him, and though none of them was destitute of merit, the
merit of none of them was in the least comparable to his. He owed this
advantage, for such it was, to his relatively early death and to the
wonderfully short space of time in which his masterpieces were produced.
Molière is identified with the age of Louis XIV., yet _Les Précieuses
Ridicules_ was written years after the king's nominal accession, and
even after his actual assumption of the reins of government from the
hands of Mazarin, while _Le Malade Imaginaire_ was acted by its dying
author more than forty years before the great king's reign ended.

[Sidenote: Contemporaries of Molière.]

The three authors just mentioned as actually contemporary with Molière
require no very lengthy notice. Quinault may almost be said to have
founded a new literary school (in which none of his pupils has surpassed
him) by the excellence of his operas. Of these _Armida_ is held the
best. His comedies proper are not quite so good as his operas, but much
better than his tragedies. One of them, _L'Amant Indiscret_, supplied
Newcastle and Dryden with hints to eke out _L'Étourdi_, and most of them
show a considerable command of comic situation, if not of comic
expression. Montfleury, whose real name was Antoine Jacob, was, like
Molière, an actor. He belonged to the old or rival company of the Hôtel
de Bourgogne, and was born in 1640. He wrote sixteen comedies, partly on
contemporary subjects and partly adaptations of Spanish originals. The
two best are _La Femme Juge et Partie_ and _La Fille Capitaine_. They
belong to an older style of comedy than Molière's, being both
extravagant and coarse, but there is considerable _vis comica_ in them.
Boursault, who was born in 1638 and died in 1701, had still more merit,
though he too was an enemy of Molière. His _Mercure Galant_ is his
principal play, besides which _Ésope à la Cour_, _Ésope à la Ville_, and
_Phaeton_ may be mentioned. He was decidedly popular both as a man and a
writer. Vanbrugh imitated more than one of his plays. In all these
comedies a certain smack of the pre-Molièresque fancy for _Comédies des
Chansons_ and other _tours de force_ may be perceived. Besides these
three writers others of Molière's own contemporaries wrote comedies with
more or less success. La Fontaine himself was a dramatist, though his
dramas do not approach his other work in excellence. Thomas Corneille
wrote comedies, but none of importance; and Campistron attained a
certain amount of success in comic as in tragic drama. No one of these,
however, approached the authors of the younger generation who have been

[Sidenote: The School of Molière-Regnard.]

Jean François Regnard, the second of French comic dramatists in general
estimation (though it is doubtful whether any single piece of his equals
_Turcaret_), was born at Paris in 1656, and lived a curious life. He was
heir to considerable wealth and increased it, singular to say, by
gambling. He had also a mania for travelling, and when he was only
two-and-twenty was captured by an Algerian corsair and enslaved. After
some adventures of a rather dubious character he was ransomed, but
continued to travel for some years. At last he returned to France,
bought several lucrative offices and an estate in the country, and lived
partly there and partly at Paris, writing comedies and indulging largely
in the pleasures of the table. He died at his château of Grillon in
1710, apparently of a fit of indigestion; but various legends are
current about the exact cause of his death. He wrote twenty-three plays
(including one tragedy of no value) and collaborated with Dufresny in
four others. Many of these pieces were comic operas. At least a dozen
were represented by the 'Maison de Molière.' The best of them are _Le
Joueur_, _Le Distrait_, _Les Ménéchmes_, _Le Légataire_, the first and
the last named being his principal titles to fame. Regnard trod as
closely as he could in the steps of Molière. He was destitute of that
great dramatist's grasp of character and moral earnestness; but he is a
thoroughly lively writer, and well merited the retort of Boileau (by no
means a lenient critic, especially to the young men who succeeded his
old friend), when some one charged Regnard with mediocrity, 'Il n'est
pas médiocrement gai.'

Baron the actor was born in 1643 and died in 1729, after having long
been the leading star of the French stage. He wrote, though it is
sometimes said that he was aided by others, seven comedies. One of
these, _L'Andrienne_, is a clever adaptation of Terence, and another,
_L'Homme aux Bonnes Fortunes_, has considerable merit in point of
writing and of that stage adaptability which few writers who have not
been themselves actors have known how to master.

Charles Rivière Dufresny, a descendant of 'La Belle Jardinière,' one of
Henri IV.'s village loves, was born in 1648 and died in 1724. He was a
great favourite of Louis XIV. and a kind of universal genius, devoting
himself by turns to almost every branch of literature and of the arts.
He was, however, incurably desultory, and was besides a man of
disorderly life. His comedies were numerous and full of wit and
knowledge of the world, but somewhat destitute of finish. Besides those
in which Regnard collaborated he was the author of eleven pieces, of
which _L'Esprit de Contradiction_, _Le Double Veuvage_, _La Coquette de
Village_, and _La Réconciliation Normande_ are perhaps the best.

Florent Carton Dancourt was born in 1661 and died in 1725. He too was a
favourite of Louis XIV., but, unlike Dufresny, he was an actor as well
as an author. Towards the end of his days, having made a moderate
fortune, he betook himself to a country life and to the practice of
religious duties. His _théâtre_ is considerable, extending to twelve
volumes. The great peculiarity of his comedies is that they deal almost
exclusively with the middle class. _Les Bourgeoises de Qualité_ and _Le
Chevalier à la Mode_, perhaps also _Le Galant Jardinier_ and _Les Trois
Cousines_, deserve mention.

The collaboration of Brueys and Palaprat resulted in the modern version
of the famous mediaeval farce, _L'Avocat Pathelin_, and in an excellent
piece of the Molière-Regnard type, _Le Grondeur_. Some other plays of
less merit were written by the friends, while each is responsible for
two independent pieces. Both were Provençals, David Augustin de Brueys
having been born at Aix in 1640, Jean Palaprat at Toulouse ten years
later. Brueys, who, as an abbé converted by Bossuet and engaged actively
in propagating his new faith, had some difficulty in appearing publicly
as a dramatic author, is understood to have had the chief share in the
composition of the joint dramas.

[Sidenote: Characteristics of Molièresque Comedy.]

The general characteristics of this remarkable comedy are not hard to
define. Based as it was, after Molière had once set the example, on the
direct study of the actual facts of society and human nature, it could
not fail to appeal to universal sympathy in a very different degree from
the artificial tragedy which accompanied it. It was, moreover, far less
trammelled by rules than the sister variety of drama. Unities did not
press very heavily on the comic dramatist; his choice and number of
characters, his licence of action on the stage, and so forth, were
unlimited; he could write in prose or verse at his pleasure, and, if he
chose verse, he was bound to a much less monotonous kind of it than his
tragic brother. Consequently the majority of the objections which lie
against the masterpieces of Corneille and Racine, and which make the
work of their imitators almost unreadable, leave Molière and his
followers unscathed. One drawback only remained, the drawback already
commented on in the case of tragedy, and admitted by French critics
themselves in some such terms as that Shakespeare took individuals,
Molière took types. The advantage of the latter method for enforcing a
moral lesson is evident; its literary disadvantages are evident
likewise. It leads to an ignoring of the complexity of human nature and
to an unnatural prominence of the 'ruling passion.' The highest dramatic
triumphs of single character in comedy, Falstaff, Rosalind, Beatrice,
become impossible. As it has been remarked, the very titles of these
plays, _Le Misanthrope_, _Le Joueur_, _Le Grondeur_, show their defects.
No man is a mere misanthrope, a mere gambler, a mere grumbler; and the
dramatist who approaches comedy from the side of Molière is but too apt
to forget the fact in his anxiety to enforce his moral and deepen the
strokes of his general type.


[233] Ed. Stengel. 5 vols. Marburg, 1884. Cf. Rigal, _Alexandre Hardy_.
Paris, 1889.

[234] This singular work has been published in vol. 8 of the _Ancien
Théâtre Français_ in the Bibliothèque Elzévirienne. It consists of two
parts (or, as the author calls them, days), and fills some two hundred
pages. The traditions of the classical drama are thrown to the winds in
it, and the liberty of action, the abundance of personages, the bustle
and liveliness of the presentation are almost equal to those of the
contemporary English theatre.

[235] Ed. Viollet-le-Duc. Also in a convenient selection of his best
plays, by L. de Ronchaud. Paris, 1882.

[236] It is pretty generally known that Richelieu himself (besides other
dramatic work) composed the whole, or nearly the whole, of a play
_Mirame_, which he had sumptuously performed, and which was fathered by
Desmarest. It possessed no merit.

[237] Ed. Marty-Laveaux. 12 vols. Paris, 1862-67.

[238] Ed. Mesnard. 8 vols. Paris, 1867.

[239] The work of (or attributed to) this singular and obscure person
has been edited by M. G. Aventin in 2 vols, of the Bibliothèque
Elzévirienne (Paris, 1858). The name was certainly assumed, and the date
and history of the bearer are quite uncertain. The third decade of the
seventeenth century seems to have been his most flourishing time. He was
the most remarkable of a class of charlatans, others of whom bore the
names of Gaultier-Garguille, Gros-Guillaume, etc., and the work which
goes under his name is typical of a large mass of _facetiae_. It
consists of dialogues between Tabarin and his master, of farcical
adventures in which figure Rodomont (the typical hero of romance) and
Isabelle (the typical heroine), etc., etc.

[240] These will be found in the dramatic collection of the Bibliothèque
Elzévirienne already cited, as well as other pieces, of which the most
remarkable is the _Corrivaux_ of Troterel (1612). Saint-Evremond among
his earlier works produced a _Comédie des Académistes_, satirising the
then young Academy.

[241] Ed. Moland. 7 vols. Paris, 1863. Ed. (in 'Grands Ecrivains'
series) Despois, Regnier, and Mesnard. Paris (in progress).



[Sidenote: D'Urfé.]

Prose fiction, for reasons which it is not at all hard to discover, is
in its more complete forms always a late product of literature. Up to
the beginning of the seventeenth century, France had known nothing of it
except the short prose tales which had succeeded the Fabliaux, and which
had been chiefly founded on imitation of the Italians, with the late and
inferior prose versions of the romances of chivalry, the isolated
masterpiece of _Gargantua_ and _Pantagruel_, and the translated and
adapted versions of the _Amadis_ and its continuations. The imitation of
Spanish literature was constant in the early seventeenth century, and
the great wave of conceited style which, under the various names of
Euphuism, Gongorism, Marinism, invaded all the literary countries of
Europe, did not spare France. The result was a very singular class of
literature which, except for a few burlesque works, almost monopolised
the attention of novelists during the first half of the century. The
example of it was in a manner set by Honoré d'Urfé in the _Astrée_,
which was, however, rather pastoral than heroic. D'Urfé, who was a man
of position and wealth in the district of Forez, imagined, on the banks
of the Lignon, a stream running past his home, a kind of Arcadia, the
popularity of which is sufficiently shown by the adoption of the name of
the hero, Céladon, as one of the stock names in French for a lover. He
took, perhaps, some of his machinery from the _Aminta_ of Tasso and from
the other Italian pastorals, but he emulated the _Amadis_ in the
interminable series of adventures and the long-windedness of his
treatment. He had, however, some literary power, while the necessary
verisimilitude was provided for by the adaptation of numerous personal
experiences, and the book has preserved a certain reputation for
graceful sentiment and attractive pictures of nature. It was
extraordinarily popular at the time and long afterwards, so much so that
a contemporary ecclesiastic, Camus de Pontcarré, considered it necessary
to supply an antidote to the bane in the shape of a series of Christian
pastorals, the name of one of which, _Palombe_, is known, because of an
edition of it in the present century.

[Sidenote: The Heroic Romances.]

D'Urfé belonged as much to the sixteenth as to the seventeenth century,
though the _Astrée_ was the work of the latter part of his life, and was
indeed left unfinished by him. It was shortly afterwards, under the
influence chiefly of the growing fancy for literary _coteries_, that the
heroic romance properly so called was born. This was usually a narration
of vast length, in which sometimes the heroes and heroines of classical
antiquity, sometimes personages due more or less to the author's
imagination, were conducted through a more than Amadis-like series of
trials and adventures, with interludes and a general setting of
high-flown gallantry. This latter possessed a complete jargon of its
own, and (though the hypothesis of its power over the classical French
drama is for the most part exaggerated) continued to exercise a vast
influence on literature and on society, even after Molière had poured on
its chief practitioners and advocates the undying mockery of his
_Précieuses Ridicules_. There were three prominent authors in this
style, Mademoiselle de Scudéry, La Calprenède, and Gomberville.
Mademoiselle de Scudéry, known in the _coterie_ nomenclature of the time
as 'Sapho,' was the sister of Georges de Scudéry, and a woman of
considerable talent and more considerable industry. Madeleine de Scudéry
was born at Havre in 1607, and died at Paris in 1701, her life thus
covering nearly the whole of the century of which she was one of the
most conspicuous literary figures. She had no beauty--indeed she was
very ugly--but the eccentric military and literary reputation of her
brother and her own talents made her the centre and head of an important
_coterie_ in the capital. Her romances, the earliest of which was
_Ibrahim_, were published under her brother's name, but their
authorship was well known. She was extremely accomplished, not merely in
the accomplishments of a blue-stocking but in art, and even in
housewifery. After her series of romances was finished she published
many volumes, chiefly condensed or extracted from them, containing
_Conversations_ of the moral kind, which attracted attention from some
persons who had not condescended to the romances themselves. It ought
never to be forgotten that among the most fervent admirers of her books
and of their fellows was Madame de Sévigné, who was certainly almost as
acute in literary criticism as she was skilful in literary composition.
Her novels, the most famous of their class, are the _Grand Cyrus_,
otherwise _Artamène_, _Clélie_, _Ibrahim_, or the _Illustrious Bassa_,
and _Almahide_, the latter being partly, but chiefly in the name of the
heroine, the source of Dryden's _Conquest of Granada_. The _Grand Cyrus_
is, at least by title, the best remembered, but it is in _Clélie_ that
the best-known and most characteristic trait appears, the delineation
and description namely of the _Carte de Tendre_[242]. Tendre is the
country of love, through which flows the river of Inclination watering
the villages of 'Pretty Verses,' 'Gallant Epistles,' 'Assiduity,' etc.,
while elsewhere in the region are the less cheerful localities of
'Levity,' 'Indifference,' 'Perfidy,' and so forth. La Calprenède, a
Gascon by birth, was the author of _Cléopâtre_ (which ranks perhaps with
_Cyrus_ as the chief example of the style), of _Cassandre_ and of
_Pharamond_. Gauthier de Coste (which was his personal name) figures,
like most of the notable persons of the middle of the century, in the
_Historiettes_ of Tallemant, who says of him, 'Il n'y a jamais eu un
homme plus Gascon que celui-ci.' The assertion is supported by some
characteristic but not easily quotable anecdotes. The criticism of
Tallemant, however, does not apply badly to the whole class of
compositions. 'Les héros,' says he, speaking of _Cassandre_, 'se
ressemblent comme deux gouttes d'eau, parlent tous _Phébus_ (the
euphuist jargon of the time), et sont tous des gens à cent mille lieues
au dessus des autres hommes.' Marin le Roy, Seigneur de Gomberville, who
was something of a Jansenist, attended rather to edification than
gallantry in his _Alcidiane_, _Caritée_, _Polexandre_, and _Cythérée_.
Though earlier in date he is inferior in power to Mademoiselle de
Scudéry and to La Calprenède, the first of whom had some wit and much
culture, while La Calprenède possessed a decided grasp of heroic
character and some notion of the method of composing historical novels.
Gomberville, a man of wealth and position, was also a writer of moral
works. Putting the artificiality of the general style out of the
question, the chief fault to be found with these books is their enormous
length. They fill eight, ten, or even twelve volumes; they consist of
five, six, or even seven thousand pages, though the pages are not very
large and the print by no means close. Even the liveliest work--work
like Fielding's or Le Sage's--would become tiresome on such a scale as
this; and it is still incomprehensible how any one not having some
special object to serve by it could struggle through such enormous
wastes of verbiage and unreality as form the bulk of these novels. Even
when the passion for the heroic style strictly so called began to wane
no great improvement at first manifested itself. Catherine
Desjardins[243] (who wrote under the name of Madame de Villedieu)
produced numerous books (the chief of which is _Le Grand Alcandre_), not
indeed so absolutely preposterous in general conception, but even more
vapid and destitute of originality and distinction[244].

These impracticable and barren styles of fiction were succeeded in the
latter half of the century by something much better. The Picaroon
romance of Spain inspired Paul Scarron with the first of a long line of
novels which, in the hands of Le Sage, Defoe, Fielding, and Smollett,
enriched the literature of Europe with remarkable work. Madame de la
Fayette laid the foundation of the novel proper, or story of analysis of
character; and towards the close of the century the fairy tale attained,
in the hands of Anthony Hamilton, Perrault and Madame d'Aulnoy, its
most delightful and abundant development.

[Sidenote: Scarron.]

Paul Scarron was one of the most remarkable literary figures of the
century in respect of originality and eccentric talent, though few
single works of his possess formal completeness. He was of a family of
Piedmontese origin and very well connected, his father, of the same
name, being a member of the Parliament of Paris, and of sufficiently
independent humour to oppose Richelieu. Paul Scarron the younger (he had
had an elder brother of the same name who had died an infant) was born
in 1610, and his mother did not outlive his third year. His father
married again; the stepmother did not get on well with Paul, and he was
half obliged and half induced to become an abbé. For some years he lived
a merry life, partly at Rome, partly at Paris. But when he was still
young a great calamity fell on him. A cock-and-bull story of his having
disguised himself as a savage in a kind of voluntary tar-and-feather
suit, and having been struck with paralysis in consequence of plunging
into an ice-cold stream to escape the populace, is usually told, but
there seems to be no truth in it. An attack of fever, followed by
rheumatism and mismanaged by the physicians of the day, appears to have
been the real cause of his misfortune. At any rate, for the last twenty
years of his life he was hopelessly deformed, almost helpless, and
subject to acute attacks of pain. But his spirit was unconquerable. He
had some preferment at Le Mans and a pension from the queen, which he
lost on suspicion of writing _Mazarinades_. Besides these he had what he
called his 'Marquisat de Quinet,' that is to say, the money which Quinet
the bookseller paid him for his wares. In 1652 he astonished Paris by
marrying Françoise d'Aubigné, the future Madame de Maintenon, the
granddaughter of Agrippa d'Aubigné. The strange couple seem to have been
happy enough, and such unfavourable reports as exist against Madame
Scarron may be set down to political malice. But Scarron's health was
utterly broken, and he died in 1660 at the age of fifty. His work was
not inconsiderable, including some plays and much burlesque poetry, the
chief piece of which was his 'Virgil travestied,' an ignoble task at
best, but very cleverly performed. His prose, however, is of much
greater value. Many of his _nouvelles_, mostly imitated from the
Spanish, have merit, and his _Roman Comique_[245], though also inspired
to some extent from the peninsula, has still more. It is the unfinished
history of a troop of strolling actors, displaying extraordinary truth
of observation and power of realistic description in the style which, as
has been said, Le Sage and Fielding afterwards made popular throughout

[Sidenote: Cyrano de Bergerac.]

With Scarron may be classed another writer of not dissimilar character,
but of far less talent, whose eccentricities have given him a
disproportionate reputation even in France, while they have often
entirely misled foreign critics. Cyrano de Bergerac was a Gascon of not
inconsiderable literary power, whose odd personal appearance, audacity
as a duellist, and adherence, after conversion, to the unpopular cause
of Mazarin, gave him a position which his works fail to sustain. They
are not, however, devoid of merit. His _Pédant Joué_, a comedy, gave
Molière some useful hints; his _Agrippine_, a tragedy, has passages of
declamatory energy. But his best work comes under the head of fiction.
The _Voyages à la Lune et au Soleil_[246], in which the author partly
followed Rabelais, and partly indulged his own fancy for rodomontade,
personal satire, and fantastic extravagance, have had attributed to them
the great and wholly unmerited honour of setting a pattern to Swift.
Cyrano, let it be repeated, was a man of talent, but his powers (he died
before he was thirty-five) had not time to mature, and the reckless
boastfulness of his character would probably have disqualified him at
all times from adequate study and self-criticism. Personally, he is an
amusing and interesting figure in literary history, but he is not much
more. In company with him and with Scarron may be mentioned Dassoucy,
alternately a friend and enemy of Cyrano, and a light writer of some

[Sidenote: Furetière.]

Charles Sorel, an exceedingly voluminous author, historiographer of
France, deserves mention in passing for his _Histoire Comique de
Francion_[247], in which, as in almost all the fictitious work of the
time, serious as well as comic, living persons are introduced. The
chief remarkable thing about _Francion_ is the evidence it gives of an
attempt at an early date (1623) to write a novel of ordinary manners. It
is a dull story with loose episodes. More interesting is Antoine
Furetière, author of the _Roman Bourgeois_[248]. Furetière, who was a
man of varied talent, holds no small place in the history of the
calamities of authors. He wrote poems, short tales, fables, satires,
criticisms. He is said to have given both Boileau and Racine not
inconsiderable assistance. Unfortunately for him, though he had been
elected an academician in 1662, he conceived and executed the idea of
outstripping his tardy colleagues in their dictionary work. He produced
a book of great merit and utility, but one which brought grave troubles
on his own head. It was alleged that he had infringed the privileges of
the Academy; he was expelled from that body, his own privilege for his
own book was revoked, and it was not published till after his death,
becoming eventually the well-known _Dictionnaire de Trévoux_.
Furetière's side has been warmly taken in these days, and it has been
sought, not without success, to free him from the charge of all
impropriety of conduct, except the impropriety of continuing to be a
member of the Academy, while what he was doing could hardly be regarded
as anything but a slight on it. The _Roman Bourgeois_ is an original and
lively book, without any general plot, but containing a series of very
amusing pictures of the Parisian middle-class society of the day, with
many curious traits of language and manners. It was published in 1666.

[Sidenote: Madame de la Fayette.]

Of very different importance is the Countess de la Fayette, who has the
credit, and justly, of substituting for mere romances of adventure on
the one hand, and for stilted heroic work on the other, fiction in which
the display of character is held of chief account. In the school,
indeed, of which Scarron set the example in France, especially in _Gil
Blas_, its masterpiece, the most accurate knowledge and drawing of human
motives and actions is to be found. But it is knowledge and drawing of
human motives and actions in the gross rather than in particular. Gil
Blas, and even Tom Jones, are types rather than individuals, though the
genius of their creators hides the fact. It is, perhaps, an arguable
point of literary criticism, whether the persevering analysis of
individual, and more or less unusual, character does not lead novelists
away from the best path--as it certainly leads in the long run to
monstrosities of the modern French and English 'realist' type. But this
is a detail of criticism into which there is no need to enter here. It
is sufficient that the style has produced some of the most admirable,
and much of the most characteristic, work of the last century, and that
Madame de la Fayette is on the whole entitled to the credit of being its
originator. Her pen was taken up in the next century by the Abbé Prevost
and by Richardson, and from these three the novel, as opposed to the
romance, may be said to descend. The maiden name of Madame de la
Fayette[249] was Marie Madeleine Pioche de la Vergne, and she was born
at Paris in 1634. Her father was governor of Havre. She was carefully
brought up under Ménage and Rapin, among others, and was one of the most
brilliant of the _précieuses_ of the Hôtel Rambouillet. In 1655 she
married the Count de la Fayette, but was soon left a widow. After his
death she contracted a kind of Platonic friendship with La
Rochefoucauld, who was then in the decline of life, tormented with gout,
and consoling himself for the departure of the days when he was one of
the most important men in France by the composition of his undying
Maxims. She survived him thirteen years, and died herself in 1693.
During the whole of her life she was on the most intimate terms with
Madame de Sévigné, as well as with many of the foremost men of letters
of the time. In particular there are extant a large number of letters
between her and Huet, bishop of Avranches, one of the most learned,
amiable, and upright prelates of the age. Her first attempt at
novel-writing was _La Princesse de Montpensier_. This was followed by
_Zaïde_, published in 1670, a book of considerable excellence; and this
in its turn by _La Princesse de Clèves_, published in 1677, which is one
of the classics of French literature. The book is but a small one, not
amounting in size to a single volume of a modern English novel, and this
must of itself have been no small novelty and relief after the
portentous bulk of the Scudéry romances. Its scene is laid at the court
of Henri II., and there is a certain historical basis; but the principal
personages are drawn from the author's own experience, herself being the
heroine, her husband the Prince of Clèves, and Rochefoucauld the Duke de
Nemours, while other characters are identified with Louis XIV. and his
courtiers by industrious compilers of 'keys.' If, however, the interest
of the book had been limited to this it would now-a-days have lost all
its attraction, or have retained so much at most as is due to simple
curiosity. But it has far higher merits, and what may be called its
court apparatus, and the multitude of small details about court
business, are rather drawbacks to it now. Such charm as it has is
derived from the strict verisimilitude of the character drawing, and the
fidelity with which the emotions are represented. This interest may,
indeed, appear thin to a modern reader fresh from the works of those who
have profited by two centuries of progress in the way which Madame de la
Fayette opened. But when it is remembered that her book appeared thirty
years before _Gil Blas_, forty before the masterpieces of Defoe, and
more than half a century before the English novel properly so called
made its first appearance, her right to the place she occupied will
hardly be contested[250].

The precise origin of the fancy for writing fairy stories, which took
possession of polite society in France at the end of the seventeenth
century, has been the subject of much discussion, and cannot be said to
have been finally settled. Probably the fables of La Fontaine, which are
very closely allied to the style, may have given the required impulse.
As soon as an example was set this style was seen to lend itself very
well to the still surviving fancy for _coterie_ compositions, and the
total amount of work of the kind produced in the last years of the
seventeenth and the first of the eighteenth century must be enormous.
Much of it has not yet been printed, and the names of but few of the
authors are generally known, or perhaps worth knowing[251]. Three,
however, emerge from the mass and deserve attention--Anthony Hamilton,
Madame d'Aulnoy, and above all, Charles Perrault, the master beyond all
comparison of the style.

[Sidenote: Fairy Tales.]

Marie Catherine, Comtesse d'Aulnoy, was born about the middle of the
seventeenth century, and died in 1720. It is sufficient to say that
among her works are the 'Yellow Dwarf' and the 'White Cat,' stories
which no doubt she did not invent, but to which she has given their
permanent and well-known form. She wrote much else, memoirs and novels
which were bad imitations of the style of Madame de la Fayette, but her
fairy tales alone are of value. Anthony Hamilton was one of the rare
authors who acquire a durable reputation by writing in a language which
is not their native tongue. He was born in Ireland in 1646, and followed
the fortunes of the exiled royal family. He returned with Charles II.,
but adhering to Catholicism, was excluded from preferment in England
until James II.'s reign, and he passed most of his time before the
Revolution, and all of it afterwards, in France. Hamilton produced
(besides many fugitive poems and minor pieces) two books of great note
in French, the _Mémoires de Grammont_, his brother-in-law, which perhaps
is the standard book for the manners of the court of Charles II., and a
collection of fairy tales, less simple than those of Perrault and Madame
d'Aulnoy and more subordinated to a sarcastic intention, but full of wit
and written in French, which is only more piquant for its very slight
touch of a foreign element. Many phrases of Hamilton's tales have passed
into ordinary quotation, notably 'Bélier, mon ami, tu me ferais plaisir
si tu voulais commencer par le commencement.'

[Sidenote: Perrault.]

The master of the style was, however, as has been said, Charles
Perrault, whose literary history was peculiar. He was born at Paris in
1628, being the son of Pierre Perrault, a lawyer, who had three other
sons, all of them of some distinction, and one of them, Claude Perrault,
famous in the oddly conjoined professions of medicine and architecture.
Charles was well educated at the Collège de Beauvais, and at first
studied law, but his father soon afterwards bought a place of value in
the financial department, and Charles was appointed clerk in 1662. He
received a curious and rather nondescript preferment (as secretary to
Colbert for all matters dependent on literature and arts), which, among
other things, enabled him to further his brother's architectural career.
In 1671 he was, under the patronage of Colbert, elected of the Academy,
into the affairs and proceedings of which he imported order almost for
the first time. He had done and for some time did little in literature,
being occupied by the duties which, under Colbert, he had as controller
of public works. But after a few essays in poetry, partly burlesque and
partly serious, notably a _Siècle de Louis XIV._, he embarked on the
rather unlucky work which gave him his chief reputation among his own
contemporaries, the _Parallèle des Anciens et des Modernes_, in which he
took the part of the moderns. The dispute which followed, due
principally to the overbearing rudeness of Boileau, has had something
more than its proper place in literary history, and there is no need to
give an account of it. It is enough to say that while Boileau as far as
his knowledge went (and that was not far, for he knew nothing of
English, not very much of Greek, and it would seem little of Italian or
Spanish) had the better case, Perrault, assisted by his brother, made a
good deal the best use of his weapons, Boileau's unlucky 'Ode on Namur'
giving his enemies a great hold on him. After six years' fighting,
however, the enemies made peace, and, indeed, it does not seem that
Perrault at any time bore malice. He produced, besides some memoirs and
the charming trifles to be presently spoken of[252], a good many
miscellanies in prose and verse of no particular value, and died in

His first tale, _Griselidis_ (in verse, and by no means his best),
appeared in 1691, _Peau d'Âne_ and _Les Souhaits Ridicules_ in 1694, _La
Belle au Bois Dormant_ in 1696, and the rest in 1697. These are _Le
Petit Chaperon Rouge_, _La Barbe Bleue_, _Le Maître Chat ou le Chat
Botté_, _Les Fées_, _Cendrillon_, _Riquet à la Houppe_, and _Le Petit
Poucet_. It is needless to say that Perrault did not invent the subjects
of them. What he contributed was an admirable and peculiar narrative
style, due, as seems very probable, in great part to the example of La
Fontaine, but distinguished therefrom by all the difference of verse and
prose. The characteristics of this style are an extreme simplicity
which does not degenerate into puerility, great directness, and at the
same time vividness in telling the story, and a remarkable undercurrent
of wit which is never obtrusive, as is sometimes the case in the verse
tales. Perrault's stories deserve their immense popularity, and they
found innumerable imitators chiefly among persons of quality, who, as M.
Honoré Bonhomme, the best authority on the obscurer fairy-tale writers,
observes, probably found an attraction in the style because of the way
in which it lent itself to cover personal satire. This, however, is
something of an abuse, and little or nothing of it is discernible in
Perrault's own work, though later, and especially in the eighteenth
century, it was frequently if not invariably present.


Although the list of names mentioned here under the respective heads of
poets, dramatists, and novelists is considerable, it is very far indeed
from being exhaustive. It may, indeed, be said generally that it is only
possible in this history, especially as we leave the invention of
printing farther and farther behind, to mention those names which have
left something like a memory behind them. The dramas and novels of the
seventeenth century are extremely numerous, and have been but very
partially explored. In regard to the poems there is an additional
difficulty. It was a fashion of the time to collect such things in
_recueils_--miscellaneous collections--in which the work of very large
numbers of writers, who never published their poems separately or
obtained after their own day any recognition as poets, is buried.
Specimens, published here and there by the laborious editors of the
greater classics in illustration of these latter, show that with
leisure, opportunity, and critical discernment, this little-worked vein
might be followed up not without advantage. But for such a purpose, as
for the similar exploration of many other out-of-the-way corners of this
vast literature, conditions are needed which are eminently 'the gift of
fortune.' These remarks apply more or less to all the following chapters
and books of this history. But they may find an appropriate place here,
not merely because it is from this period onwards that they are most
applicable, but because this special department of French literary
history--the earlier seventeenth century--contains, perhaps, the
greatest proportion of this wreckage of time as yet unrummaged and
unsorted by posterity.


[242] Not _du_ Tendre, as it is often erroneously cited in French and
English works.

[243] The learned editor of Tallemant des Réaux calls her Marie
Hortense. She also wrote verses and plays. There were many other romance
writers of the period now forgotten, or remembered only for other
things, such as the Abbé d'Aubignac.

[244] I cannot boast of an intimate or exhaustive acquaintance with the
'heroic' romances; but I have taken care to satisfy myself of the
accuracy of the statements in the text.

[245] Ed. Dillaye. 2 vols. Paris, 1881.

[246] The full title is _Histoire Comique des États de la Lune et du
Soleil_. Cyrano's works have been edited by P. L. Jacob. 2 vols. Paris,

[247] Ed. Colombey. Paris, 1877.

[248] Ed. Jannet. 2 vols. Paris, 1878.

[249] Ed. Garnier. Paris, 1864.

[250] Madame de la Fayette also wrote _La Comtesse de Tende_, and
interesting Memoirs of Henrietta of England. _Zaïde_ was published under
the name of Segrais, who was a _nouvelle_-writer of no great merit,
though a pleasant poet.

[251] See H. Bonhomme, _Le Cabinet des Fées_.

[252] Ed. Lefèvre. Paris, 1875. Ed. Lang. Oxford, 1888.



Although the seventeenth century did not witness the acceptance in
France of what may be called a philosophical conception of history, and
though few or none of the regular histories of the time (with the
exception of that of Mézeray) hold high rank as literature, no period
was more fruitful in memoirs, letters, and separate historical sketches
of the first merit. The names of Madame de Sévigné, of the Cardinal de
Retz, of La Rochefoucauld, and at the extreme end of the period of Saint
Simon, rank among those of the most original writers of France, while
the historical essay has rarely assumed a more thoroughly literary form
than in the short sketches of Retz, Sarrasin, and others. The subject of
the present chapter may, therefore, be divided into four parts, the
historians properly so called (the least interesting of the four), the
historical essayists, the memoir-writers, and the letter-writers, with
an appendix of erudite cultivators of historical science and of
miscellaneous authors of historical gossip and other matters.

[Sidenote: General Historians. Mézeray.]

[253]It is said not unfrequently that the only historical work of this
particular period, combining magnitude of subject with elevation and
originality of thought and literary excellence of expression, is
Bossuet's discourse on universal history. There is not a little truth in
the saying. Still there are a few authors whose work deserves mention.
The great history of De Thou was written in Latin. But the century
produced in Mézeray's History of France the first attempt of merit on
the subject. François Eudes de Mézeray was the son of a surgeon, who
seems to have been of some means and position. Mézeray was educated at
Caen (he was born in 1610), and he early betook himself to historical
studies. After beginning by supervising a translated history of the
Turks, he set to work on his masterpiece, the _History of France_, which
appeared in three huge and splendid folios in 1643, 1646, and 1651. He
was accused of treating his predecessors with too great contempt; but
this was more than justified by the superiority, not merely in style but
in historical conception and attention to documentary evidence, which he
showed. Mézeray had been protected and pensioned by Richelieu, but under
Mazarin he became a violent pamphleteer and author of _Mazarinades_.
Later, when Louis XIV. was settled on the throne, he published an
abridgment of his own history, in which the keen scent of Colbert
discovered uncourtly strictures on the fiscal abuses of the kingdom.
Mézeray refused to alter them, and was mulcted accordingly of part of
his pension. He died in 1683, having earned the title of the first
historian, worthy of the name, of France. With due allowance for his
period, he may challenge comparison with almost any of his successors,
though his style, excellent at its best, is somewhat unequal. Péréfixe
(who may have been assisted by Mézeray) is responsible for a history of
Henri IV.; Maimbourg for a history of the League which has some interest
for Englishmen because Dryden translated it. The same great English
writer projected but did not accomplish a translation from a much more
worthless historian, Varillas, who is notorious among his class for
indifference to accuracy. It is indeed curious that this century, side
by side with the most laborious investigators ever known, produced a
school of historians who, with some merits of style, were almost
deliberately unfaithful to fact. If the well-known saying ('Mon siége
est fait') attributed to the Abbé Vertot is not apocryphal[254], he must
be ranked in the less respectable class. But his well-known histories,
the chief of which is devoted to the Knights of Malta, were not wholly
constructed on this principle. Pellisson wrote a history of the Academy,
of which he was secretary, and one of the living Louis XIV., which, as
might be expected, is little more than an ingenious panegyric. The Père
Daniel wrote a history of France, the Père d'Orléans one of the English
revolutions; while Rapin de Thoyras, a Huguenot and a refugee, had the
glory of composing in a foreign language the first book deserving the
title of a History of England. Superior to all these writers, except to
Mézeray, are the ecclesiastical historians Fleury and Tillemont. Fleury
was a good writer, very learned and exceedingly fair. Tillemont, with
less pretentions to style, is second to no writer of history in
learning, industry, accuracy, and judgment.

[Sidenote: Historical Essayists.]

[Sidenote: Saint Réal.]

The historical essay, like much else of value at the time, was in great
part due to the mania for _coteries_. In these select societies
literature was the favourite occupation, and ingenuity was ransacked to
discover forms of composition admitting of treatment in brief space and
of the display of literary skill. The personal 'portrait,' or elaborate
prose character, was of this kind, but the ambition of the competitors
soared higher than mere character-drawing. They sought for some striking
event, if possible contemporary, which offered, within moderate compass,
dramatic unity and scope for something like dramatic treatment.
Sometimes, as in the _Relation du Passage du Rhin_, by the Count de
Guiche, personal experiences formed the basis, but more frequently
passages in the recent history of other nations were chosen. Of this
kind was the _Conspiration de Walstein_ of Sarrasin, which, though
incomplete, is admirable in style. Better still is the _Conjuration de
Fiesque_ of the Cardinal de Retz, his first work, and one written when
he was but seventeen. Not a few of the scattered writings of Saint
Evremond may be classed under this head, notably the Letter to Créqui on
the Peace of the Pyrenees, which was the cause of his exile, though this
was rather political than historical. Towards the end of the century,
the Abbé Vertot preluded his larger histories by a short tract on the
revolutions of Portugal, and another on those of Sweden, which had both
merit and success. It will be observed that conspiracies, revolutions,
and such-like events formed the staple subjects of these compositions.
Of this class was the masterpiece of the style--the only one perhaps
which as a type at least merits something more than a mere mention--the
_Conjuration des Espagnols contre Venise_[255] of Saint Réal, a piece
famous in French literature as a capital example of historical narration
on the small scale, and not unimportant to English literature as the
basis of Otway's principal tragedy. César Vichard, Abbé de Saint Réal,
was born at Chambéry in 1631, and died at the same place in 1692. He was
sent early to Paris, betook himself to historical studies, and published
various works, including certain discourses on history, a piece on Don
Carlos, and the _Conjuration des Espagnols_ itself, which appeared in
1672. Shortly afterwards he visited London, and was for a time a member
of the _coterie_ of Saint Evremond and Hortense Mancini. He returned to
Paris and thence, in 1679, to his native town, where the Duke of Savoy
made him his historiographer and a member of the Academy of Turin. Not
long before his death he was employed in political work. Saint Réal's
chief characteristics as a historian are the preference before
everything else of a dramatic conception and treatment, and the
employment of a singularly vivid and idiomatic style, simple in its
vocabulary and phrase and yet in the highest degree picturesque. He has
been accused of following his master, Varillas, in want of strict
accuracy, but in truth strict accuracy was not aimed at by any of these
essayists. Their object was to produce a creditable literary
composition, to set forth their subject strikingly and dramatically, and
to point a moral of some kind. In all three respects their success was
not contemptible.

[Sidenote: Memoir-writers.]

[Sidenote: Rohan]

[Sidenote: Bassompierre.]

The memoir-writers proper, who confine themselves to what they in their
own persons have done, heard, or thought, are, as has been said, of far
more importance. Their number is very great, and investigations into the
vast record treasures which, after revolutionary devastation, France
still possesses, is yearly increasing the knowledge of them. Only a
brief account can here be attempted of most of them; and where the
historical importance of the writer exceeds or equals his importance as
a literary figure, biographical details will be but sparingly given, as
they are easily and more suitably to be found elsewhere. The earliest
writer who properly comes within our century (the order of the
collection of Michaud and Poujoulat is followed for convenience sake) is
François Duval, Marquis de Fontenay Mareuil. Fontenay was a soldier, a
courtier, and a diplomatist, in which last character he visited England.
He has left us connected memoirs from 1609 to 1624, and some short
accounts of later transactions, such as the siege of La Rochelle, and
his own mission to Rome. Fontenay is a simple and straightforward
writer, full of good sense, and not destitute of narrative power. To
Paul Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain (1566-1621) we owe a somewhat jejune
but careful and apparently faithful account of the minority of Louis
XIII. A short and striking relation of the downfall of Concini is
supposed to be the work of Michel de Marillac, keeper of the seals
(1573-1632), afterwards one of the victims of Richelieu. Henri de Rohan
(1579-1638) is very far superior to the writers just named. Of the
greatest house, save one or two, in France, he travelled much,
distinguished himself in battle, both in foreign and civil war; was once
condemned to death, made head for a time against all the strength of
Richelieu; was near purchasing the principality of Cyprus from the
Venetians, and establishing himself in the east; was recalled, commanded
the French forces with brilliant success in the Valtelline, and met his
death under Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar at Rheinfeld. Besides his memoirs he
wrote a book called the _Parfait Capitaine_, and some others. The
memoirs extend from the death of Henri IV. to the year 1629, and have
all the vigour and brilliancy of the best sixteenth-century work of the
kind. A further account of the Valtelline campaign is also most probably
Rohan's, though it is not written in the first person, and has been
attributed to others. Of still greater personal interest are the memoirs
of François, Maréchal de Bassompierre, another of the adversaries of
Richelieu, and who, less fortunate than Rohan, languished twelve years
in the Bastille. Few persons played a more active part in the first
years of the reign of Louis XIII. than Bassompierre, and no one has left
a livelier description, not merely of his own personal fortunes, but of
the personality of his contemporaries, the habits and customs of the
time, the wars, the loves, the intrigues of himself, his friends and his
enemies. He has not the credit of being very accurate, but he is
infinitely amusing. His memoirs were written during his sojourn in the
Bastille. This was terminated by the death of Richelieu, but
Bassompierre followed his enemy before very long in consequence of an
attack of apoplexy.

In singular contrast to Bassompierre's work are the memoirs of another
chronicler of the same time, François Annibal, Maréchal d'Estrées,
brother of the mistress of Henri IV. D'Estrées excludes all gossip,
confines himself strictly to matters of public business, and recounts
them apparently with scrupulous accuracy, and in a plain but clear and
sufficient style. Among the most curious and not the least interesting
of the works of this class are the memoirs of Pontis--one of the famous
solitaries of Port Royal in his old age. Pontis died at the age of
eighty-seven, and had been for fifty-six years in the army. His memoirs,
which are strictly confined to his personal experiences, obtained the
approbation of two such undeniably competent judges as Condé and Madame
de Sévigné, and are by no means unworthy of the honour. The actual
composition of the memoirs is said to be the work of Thomas du Fossé.
The memoirs called Richelieu's are different from all these, and,
notwithstanding their great extent and the illustrious name they bear,
of very inferior interest, at least from the literary point of view.
Richelieu's talents, it is sufficiently notorious, were not literary;
and even if they had been, but little of these memoirs comes from his
own hand. They are the work of secretaries, confidants, and
under-strappers of all sorts, writing at most from the cardinal's
dictation, and probably in many cases merely constructing _précis_ of
documents. There is, therefore, no need to dwell on them.

In the memoirs of Arnauld d'Andilly and of his son, the Abbé Arnauld,
the personal interest and the abundance of anecdote and
character-drawing which characterise the memoir work of the time
reappear; the latter are, indeed, particularly full of them. Those of
the father are chiefly interesting, as exhibiting the curious mixture of
worldly and spiritual motives which played so large a part in the
history of the time. For Arnauld who was the fervent friend and disciple
of Saint Cyran, the practical founder of Jansenism in France, was also
an assiduous courtier of Gaston d'Orléans, and not too well satisfied
with the results of his courtiership. There are memoirs attributed to
Gaston himself, but they are almost certainly the work of another hand;
their historical value is not inconsiderable, but they have little
literary interest. Those of Marie, Duchess de Nemours, and daughter of
the Duke de Longueville, are short, but among the most interesting of
all those dealing with the Fronde, from the vividness and decision of
their personal traits.

[Sidenote: Madame de Motteville.]

More important still among the memoirs of this time are those of
Françoise Bertaut, Madame de Motteville, a member of the family of the
poet Bertaut. She was introduced by her mother, when very young, to Anne
of Austria, and soon became her most intimate confidante. The jealousy
of Richelieu banished her for a time from the court, and she married M.
de Motteville, a man of wealth and position in the civil service of the
province of Normandy. Shortly before Richelieu's death she lost her
husband; and as soon as Anne of Austria succeeded to the regency she was
recalled to court, and spent her time there during the queen's life. She
survived her mistress many years, and was a member of the society of
Madame de Sévigné. She died in 1689. Her memoirs, which were not
published till many years after her death, contain many curious
revelations of the court history of the time, for she was not only
intimate with Anne of Austria, but also with the unfortunate Henrietta
Maria of England, and with La Grande Mademoiselle. With the latter she
interchanged some curious and characteristic letters on a fantastic
project of Mademoiselle's for founding a new abbey of Thelema. The
general style of her memoirs is sober and intelligent, but it is injured
by the abundance of moral reflections, in matter according to the
taste, but in manner lacking much of the piquancy, of the time. These
memoirs are somewhat voluminous, and extend to the death of Anne of
Austria. Madame de Motteville, notwithstanding her affection for her
mistress, is one of the best authorities for the period of the Fronde,
because, unlike Retz and La Rochefoucauld, she was only secondarily
interested in the events she relates. Some curious details of the later
Fronde are found in the short memoirs of Père Berthod, of whom nothing
is known. Of the Comte de Brienne, who was a favourite and minister of
Anne of Austria, and whose book contains much information on foreign,
and especially English affairs; of Montrésor and Fontrailles, both
followers of Gaston of Orléans, and the latter the author of a relation
of the Cinq Mars conspiracy, short, but minute and striking; of La
Châtre, an industrious courtier and intriguer, and a vivid and
picturesque writer, whose work, as will presently be mentioned, became
entangled in a strange fashion with that of La Rochefoucauld; of the
great Turenne, a worthy follower of Montluc and Rohan in the art of
military writing, little more than mention can be made. There are some
military memoirs of interest, which go under the name of the Duke of
York (James II).

[Sidenote: Cardinal de Retz.]

The works and personages of some other writers demand a fuller notice.
Paul de Gondi[256], Cardinal de Retz, who occupies with Saint Simon, and
perhaps La Rochefoucauld, the first place among French memoir-writers of
the seventeenth century, was born in 1614, and died in 1679. He was a
younger son of an ancient and noble house, uniting French and Italian
honours, and was early destined for the church, for which probably no
churchman ever had less vocation. He intrigued in society and politics,
was a practised duellist, and though he was not more than seven-or
eight-and-twenty at Richelieu's death, had already caballed against him.
His appointment by Louis XIII., almost on his deathbed, to the
coadjutorship (involving the reversion) of the archbishopric of Paris,
which was then held by his uncle, a very old man of no personal capacity
or influence, put into his hands a formidable political weapon, and he
was not long in making use of it. He was more than any other man the
instigator of the Fronde, that singular alliance of the privileged
bourgeoisie of the great towns with the still more privileged nobility
against the royal authority as exercised through ministers. The history
of this confused and turbulent period is in great part the biography of
Retz. It is not easy to see that he had any definite political views
except the jealousy of Mazarin, which he shared with almost all his
order, an inveterate habit of insubordination, and a still more
inveterate habit of conspiracy. The Fronde was and could have been but a
failure, and Retz was a failure with it. He was for some time in exile,
but at last reconciled himself to the inevitable, and even enjoyed some
public employments under Louis XIV. His principal occupation, however,
was the payment of his enormous debts, which he effected with an honesty
not common at the time among his class by rigorously reducing his
expenditure, selling and mortgaging his numerous benefices, and, as
Madame de Sévigné put it, 'living for his creditors.' He is said thus to
have paid off four millions of francs, a vast sum for the time.
Meanwhile he was writing the Memoirs which, like the Maxims of his rival
and half-enemy, La Rochefoucauld, unexpectedly gained for him a higher
reputation in literature than he could have hoped for in politics. When
a mere boy he had shown in the _Conjuration de Fiesque_ no small
literary talent, and his sermons deepened the impression. His Memoirs,
however, are different in style from both. They are addressed to a lady
friend, and contain a most extraordinary mixture of anecdote,
description, personal satire, moral reflection, and political
portraiture. In the three points of anecdote, portrait-drawing, and
maxim-making, Retz has no rival except in the acknowledged masters of
each art respectively.

The Memoirs of Guy Joly, a lawyer and the friend and confidant of Retz,
in a manner supplement this latter's work. Joly was faithful to his
master even in exile, but at last they quarrelled, and the Memoirs do
not always throw a very favourable light on the proceedings of the
turbulent cardinal. They are very well written. Claude Joly, the uncle
of Guy, an ecclesiastic, has also left anti-Mazarin writings of less
literary worth.

[Sidenote: Mademoiselle.]

Of very great importance historically, and by no means unimportant as
literature, are the Memoirs of Pierre Lenet, a man of business long
attached to the house of Condé. These memoirs are, in fact, memoirs of
the great Condé himself, until the peace of the Pyrenees. Personal and
literary interest both appear in a very high degree in the Memoirs of
Anne Marie Louise de Montpensier, commonly called La Grande
Mademoiselle. The only daughter of Gaston of Orleans and of the Duchess
de Montpensier, she inherited enormous wealth, and a position which made
it difficult for her to marry any one but a crowned head. In her youth
she was self-willed, and by no means inclined to marriage, and prince
after prince was proposed to her in vain. During the Fronde she took an
extraordinary part--heading armies, mounting the walls of Orleans by a
scaling ladder, and saving the routed troops of Condé, after the battle
of the Faubourg Saint Antoine, by opening the gates of Paris to them,
and causing the cannon of the Bastille to cover their flight. Mazarin
never forgave her this, nor perhaps did Louis XIV. When she was past
middle age, Mademoiselle conceived an unfortunate affection for Lauzun,
then merely a gentleman of the South named Puyguilhem. By dint of great
entreaties she obtained permission from the king to marry him, but the
combined efforts of the queen and the princes of the blood caused this
to be rescinded, and Lauzun was imprisoned in Pignerol. After many years
Mademoiselle purchased his release by making over a great part of her
immense possessions to Louis' bastard, the Duke du Maine, and secretly
married her lover, who was not only younger than herself, but a
notorious adventurer. He was basely ungrateful, and she separated from
him before her death. Her memoirs, which are voluminous, contain a
minute history of her singular life, written with not a little egotism,
but with all the vivacity and individuality of savour which characterise
the best work of the time. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about them
is that, although entirely occupied with herself and her fortunes,
Mademoiselle does not appear either to exaggerate her own merits, or to
disguise her faults. She photographs herself, which is not common.
Valentin Conrart, a man of letters, who figures repeatedly in the
history of the time, who was the real founder of the Academy, who
published but little in his lifetime, and who has only recently been the
subject of a sufficient study, left memoirs of no great length, but of
value in reference to the Fronde. The Marquis de Montglat, of whom not
much is known, wrote important military memoirs of the latter portion of
the Thirty Years' War, and of the campaigns between France and Spain,
which continued until the peace of the Pyrenees.

[Sidenote: La Rochefoucauld.]

The Memoirs of La Rochefoucauld[257] would have assured him a
considerable place in the history of literature, even had he never
written the _Maxims_, and the singular fate of these Memoirs would have
deserved notice even had they been far less intrinsically interesting in
matter and style than they are. The seventeenth century was the palmy
time of literary piracy, and this piracy was facilitated not merely by
the absence of any international copyright, but by the common habit of
circulating books in manuscript long before their appearance in print.
They were thus copied and re-copied, and the number of unauthorised
duplicates made it impossible for the author to protect his work. Not
unfrequently the difficulties of authors were increased by the custom
(inherited from the middle ages) of simultaneously or rather
continuously transcribing different works in the same large notebook,
without any very scrupulous attention to their separate origin, plan,
and authorship. When La Rochefoucauld, after the conclusion of the
Fronde and the triumph of Mazarin, retired in dudgeon and disgrace to
his estates, he devoted himself to the writing of memoirs, and the fact
soon became known. He succeeded once in preventing an unauthorised
publication at Rouen. But the Elzevirs (who were as much princes of
piracy as of printing) were beyond his reach, and in 1662 there appeared
a book purporting to be the Memoirs of M. L. R. F. This book excited
much indignation in the persons commented upon, and La Rochefoucauld
hastened to deny its authenticity, alleging that but a fraction was his,
and that garbled. His denial was very partially credited, and has
remained the subject of suspicion almost to the present day. Probably,
however, he was warned by the incident of the danger of this sort of
contemporary criticism, and no authentic edition was issued. After his
death a new turn of ill-luck befell him. A fresh recension of the
Memoirs was published, not indeed quite so incorrect as the first, but
still largely adulterated, nor was the injustice repaired until 1817,
and then not entirely. It is only within the last few years that the
publication of the Memoirs from a manuscript in the possession of his
representatives has finally established the text, and that laborious
enquiries have demonstrated the conglomerate character of the early
editions (which were made up of the work of La Rochefoucauld, of La
Châtre, of Vineuil, and of several other people, even such well-known
writers as Saint Evremond being laid under contribution), and the
justice of the author's repudiation. The genuine Memoirs are, however,
extremely interesting; they are less full, and perhaps less absolutely
frank than those of Retz, but they yield to these alone of the Fronde
chronicles in piquancy and interest, while their purely literary merit
is superior. The strange bird's-eye view of conduct and motives which
characterises the Maxims is already visible in them, as well as the
profundity of insight which accompanies width of range. The form is less
finished, but its capacities are seen.

Jean Hérault de Gourville stood to La Rochefoucauld in something like
the relation which Guy Joly bore to Retz, but was far more fortunate.
Born at La Rochefoucauld, without any advantages of family or fortune,
he began as a domestic of its seigneur. He passed from this service to
that of Condé and Mazarin, held public employments which enriched him,
became the friend of Fouquet, and escaped the general ruin which fell on
the superintendent's friends at his fall, married, it is said, secretly
a daughter of the house where he had served in a menial capacity, was
recalled honourably to his country, discharged important political and
diplomatic offices, lived on equal terms with the greatest nobles of the
court, and died full of years, riches, and honours, in 1703. His
Memoirs, which were written but a short time before his death, were
dictated to a secretary. They are of a somewhat gossiping character, but
full of curious information. The so-called memoirs of Omer Talon are
really accounts, written in a stilted and professional style, of the
proceedings of the Parliament of Paris. Henri de Guise, the last, the
least fortunate, but not the least remarkable of his famous family, has
left an account of the wild expedition which he made to Naples at the
time of the revolt of Masaniello, which is somewhat too long for the
subject. The Memoirs of the Maréchal de Grammont were composed from his
papers by his second son, Louvigny, afterwards Duke de Grammont. The
eldest son, Count de Guiche, the most accomplished cavalier of the
earlier court of Louis XIV., died before his father. Guiche left a
brilliant relation (written some say on the spot and at once) of the
passage of the Rhine, an exploit much exaggerated by the king's
flatterers, but which was really a brilliant feat of arms, and was
mainly due to Guiche himself. Like those of Grammont, the Memoirs of the
Maréchal du Plessis are not the work of the hero, but in this case a
professional man of letters--it is thought Segrais--seems to have been
called in. Their somewhat stilted regularity contrasts with the
irregular vigour of most of the work mentioned in this chapter. Some
anonymous _Mémoires pour servir à l'Histoire du XVII'ème Siècle_,
though evidently a compilation, are not destitute of literary merit.
They seem to be extracted for the most part from works already
mentioned. The Memoirs of La Porte, the valet de chambre of Anne of
Austria and the youthful Louis XIV., are rather important to history
than to literature. Madame de la Fayette wrote Memoirs of Henrietta, the
daughter of Charles I., and the first wife of the Duke of Orleans, but
they are not equal to her novels in merit. The poet-Marquis La Fare
began memoirs on an extensive plan, but only completed a small part of
them. Those of the Duke of Berwick are justly considered models of
simple straightforward writing, of clear judgment, and of accurate
statement. The _Souvenirs_ of Madame de Caylus had the honour of having
Voltaire for their first editor, and deserved it. They are purely
personal, and might even be called frivolous, were it not for the
interest and historical importance of the society whose manners they
depict. The memoirs of Torcy give a clear and lucid account of the
negotiations in which that diplomatist was engaged. Last of this long
list come three works of value, the memoirs of Villars, Forbin, and
Duguay Trouin. The last two are among the somewhat rare records of
French prowess on sea. Both are somewhat boastful, and the memoirs of
Forbin, which are the longer and the more amusing of the two, are
suspected of some inaccuracy. They were not, it appears, the unaided
work of their nominal authors. The memoirs of Villars are of greater
historical importance, and of much literary interest.

[Sidenote: Saint Simon.]

A few authors, not included in the collection the order of which has
been followed, have now to be mentioned. Bussy Rabutin, cousin of Madame
de Sévigné, and one of the boldest, most unscrupulous, and most unlucky
of aspirants after fortune, has left a considerable number of letters
and memoirs in which he exposes his own projects and wrongs, and, above
all, a kind of scandalous chronicle called the _Histoire Amoureuse des
Gaules_, in which gossip against all the ladies of the court, not
excepting his own relations and friends, is pitilessly recorded. Bussy
had many of the family qualities which show themselves more amiably in
the cousin whom he libelled. His literary faculty was considerable, his
brain fertile in invention, and his tongue witty in expression; but he
made no very good use of his powers. The Marquis de Dangeau[258] has
left an immense collection of memoirs, describing in the minutest detail
the etiquette of the court of Louis XIV. and all that happened there for
years; but he had hardly any faculty of writing, and his work, except
for its matter, is chiefly remarkable because of the contrast which it
presents to a book which deals with much the same subject, and which has
yet to be noticed. This book, with grave defects and inequalities,
exhibits in the highest degree the merits of the class and period of
literature which is now under review. These are the skill shown by
writers in no respect professional, but trained to expression only by
literary amusements and the conversation of the salons; the keen insight
into motive and character; the intense interest and power of reflection
with which contemporary events are taken in and represented.

Louis de Rouvroy, Duke de Saint Simon[259], was born at La Ferté
Vidame, the family seat, in 1675. The family was of very great antiquity
and unblemished _noblesse_, claiming descent from Charlemagne; the
dukedom and the peerage--it is to be remembered that peerage in France
has, or rather had under the old régime, an entirely different sense
from the modern English sense, referring not in the least to the
ennobling of the persons enjoying it, but to their admission into a kind
of great council of the kingdom which had indeed long lost its active
functions, but retained its dignity--were conferred only on Saint
Simon's father, a favourite and a faithful servant of Louis XIII. His
mother was Charlotte de l'Aubespine, of a family which had much
distinguished itself for several generations since the days of Francis
the First. Saint Simon was brought up by the Jesuits, went to the wars
in Flanders at the age of seventeen, and a year later succeeded to the
title and estates by the death of his father. Thus at the age of
eighteen he found himself in a position theoretically superior to every
man in France except the princes of the blood, and his few brother
peers--theoretically, for the rule of Louis did not admit of any real
exercise of the privileges of the peerage. Saint Simon, however, began
at once to show his devotion to the idol of his whole life--the status
of his order--by going to law with Luxembourg, the famous Marshal, on a
question of precedence and title of the most intricate kind. At the
Peace of Ryswick he left the army, to the displeasure of the king; but
he was none the less constant at court, though he could hardly be called
a courtier, and though his inveterate stickling for precedence
frequently brought down the king's wrath on his head. In 1705 he was
made ambassador to Rome, but the appointment was almost immediately
cancelled. Many years later, however, a similar, but greater, honour
fell to his lot. The death of Louis put power into the hands of Philippe
d'Orléans, who was a friend of Saint Simon's, and the latter enjoyed the
greatest triumph of his life by bringing about the degradation of the
'Bastards' (the illegitimate sons of Louis), on whom, to the indignation
of the peers, the king had bestowed the rank and precedence of princes
of the blood. In 1721 Saint Simon went on a special embassy to Spain to
arrange the double marriage of Louis XV. to the Infanta, and of the
Prince of the Asturias to the Regent's granddaughter. There he was made
a grandee of the first class. Soon after his return he gave up
interference in public affairs, but he lived for thirty years longer,
writing incessantly, and died in 1755.

The history of his enormous literary productions is curious enough.
Nothing was published, and, from the personal nature of most of his
work, nothing could well be published, during his lifetime. He died
intestate, and with no immediate heirs, and opportunity was taken to
impound the whole of his manuscripts, amounting to hundreds of volumes.
Extracts from the memoirs were surreptitiously published from time to
time during the eighteenth century, but it was not till 1839 that the
whole was fully and faithfully given to the world. These memoirs,
however, form relatively but a small part of the vast mass of Saint
Simon's manuscripts, though they fill twenty printed volumes. Until very
recently obstacles of a not very intelligible character have been thrown
in the way of publication by the French Foreign Office, to which the
MSS. belong; but at length these seem to have been overcome, and three
different workers, M. de Boislisle, M. Drumont, and M. Faugère, have
been engaged in editing or re-editing different parts of the total. The
minor works, however, from the specimens already published, would seem
to be of less interest than the memoirs; most of them bearing on the, to
Saint Simon, inexhaustible subject of the privileges of the peerage, and
its place in the hierarchy of government. To discuss these subjects
would lead us out of our way. It is sufficient to say that it is a great
mistake to regard Saint Simon as a mere selfish aristocrat in the cant
sense. He would have had the kingdom justly and wisely governed for the
benefit of the whole nation, but he regarded the nobility, and, above
all, the peers, as the pre-destined instruments of government. 'Much for
the people, but nothing by the people,' was his political motto.

The importance of Saint Simon in literature is, however, entirely
independent of his standpoint as a politician, though that standpoint
was not without influence on his literary characteristics. He is
valuable to us as, without exception, the most vivid and graphic painter
of contemporary history of the anecdotic kind in French or any other
language. His style is incorrect, and sometimes barely grammatical, and
all his work bears the character of notes, hurriedly dashed off, rather
than of a finished and regularly arranged history. Opinions differ as to
his trustworthiness in matters of fact, but it is certain, from his
positive manner of recounting the incidents and the actual words of
interviews at which he could not have been present, and as to which he
is not likely to have had more than hearsay information, that his
testimony is to be received with caution. His prejudices, too, were
extraordinarily strong, and he is in the habit of representing
everything and everybody that he does not like in the blackest possible
colours. His furious denunciation thus makes a curious contrast to the
good-humoured malice of the author with whom he is most likely to be
compared--Madame de Sévigné. But all these drawbacks affect only the
matter, not the manner of his work. The picture which he has given of
the inner life of the court of Versailles during the later years of
Louis XIV. is unrivalled in history. Still more extraordinary is the
power of single passages, such especially as the famous one describing
the Dauphin's death. Saint Simon has often been compared to Tacitus, but
his torrent of words very little resembles the laconic incisiveness of
the Roman. A much nearer parallel, though with remarkable differences,
might be found in the late Mr. Carlyle.

Some memoirs of great extent and interest, valuable as checking Saint
Simon and Dangeau (whom Saint Simon annotated), have recently appeared
for the first time, at least in a form that is to be complete. They are
the work of the Marquis de Sourches[260], a great court officer, and
they cover the last thirty years of Louis's reign. Their chief literary
peculiarity is the formal and almost official character of the text
contrasted with the greater freedom of the numerous notes.

[Sidenote: Madame de Sévigné.]

The most famous and remarkable of all the letter-writers of the
time--perhaps the most famous and remarkable of all letter-writers in
literature--was Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, Marquise de Sévigné[261]. She
was born at Paris on the 6th of February, 1626, and died at Grignan, of
small-pox, on the 10th of August, 1696. Her family was a distinguished
one both in war and other ways. Her grandmother was the well-known
Sainte Chantal, the pupil of St. François de Sales, and her first
cousin, as has been mentioned, was Bussy Rabutin. Her father and mother
both died when she was very young, and an uncle, not more than twenty
years older than herself, the Abbé de Coulanges, took charge of her,
remaining, for the greater part of her life, her chief friend and
counsellor. She soon became a great beauty, and something of a scholar,
though not of a blue-stocking. Ménage and Chapelain had, among others,
much to do with her education, and she was a member of the celebrated
_coterie_ of the Hôtel Rambouillet, though her satirical humour saved
her from being a _précieuse_. At the age of eighteen she married the
Marquis de Sévigné, of a good and wealthy Breton family. Her husband
was, however, a selfish profligate, who wasted her substance with Ninon
de l'Enclos, and such-like persons,--though Ninon herself, to do her
justice, never plundered her lovers,--and did not pretend the slightest
return for the affection she gave him. He was killed in a duel in 1651,
leaving her with two children, a daughter, Françoise Marguerite, and a
son Charles. After a few years of seclusion she returned to the world,
being then in the full possession of her beauty, and only twenty-eight
years old. She continued for more than forty years to form part of the
best society of the capital, without suffering the least stain on her
reputation. The selfish vanity of the superintendent Fouquet made him
keep certain of her letters; but though they were discovered in a casket
which was fatal to many of his friends of both sexes, Madame de Sévigné
came scathless out of the ordeal. In 1669 her daughter, then twenty-two
years old, married the Count de Grignan, a Provençal gentleman of the
noblest birth, of great estate, rank, and fortune, but already twice a
widower, past middle age, plain, and of somewhat embarrassed means,
considering the great expenses which, as Governor of Provence, he had to
meet. He was, however, a man of good sense and probity, and his wife
seems to have been sincerely attached to him. The great bulk of Madame
de Sévigné's voluminous correspondence was addressed to her daughter,
for whom she had an almost frantic fondness; Charles de Sévigné, though
apparently far the more lovable of the two, having but an inferior share
of his mother's affection. The letters to Madame de Grignan are for the
most part dated either from Paris (in which case they are full of court
news and gossip), or from Les Rochers, the country seat of the Sévignés,
near Vitré, in which case they are full of social satire and curious
details of the provincial life of that time. One very interesting series
describes the habits and regimen of Vichy, which Madame de Sévigné
visited in consequence of a severe attack of rheumatism. The
correspondence thus serves as a minute and detailed history of the
author for the last thirty years of her life, except during her rare
visits to Grignan, in one of which, as has been mentioned, she caught
the illness which proved fatal to her.

It has been said that Madame de Sévigné's letters are very numerous.
Those to her daughter especially were garbled in the earlier editions by
omissions, and by the substitution of phrases which seemed to the 18th
century more suitable than the fresh nature of the originals. The
edition cited gives the extant MSS. faithfully. The enthusiastic
affection lavished by the mother on the daughter naturally commends
itself differently to different persons. It is certain that if it is not
tedious, it is only due to the extraordinary literary art of the writer,
an art which is at once the most artful and the most artless to be
anywhere found. The only other faults of the letters are an occasional
crudity of diction (which, however, is, when rightly taken, perfectly
innocent and even valuable as exemplifying the manners of the time,) and
a decided heartlessness in relating the misfortunes of all those in whom
the writer is not personally interested. Madame de Sévigné has been
blamed for not sympathising more with the oppression of the French
people during her time. This, however, is an unfair charge. In the first
place she simply expresses the current political ideas of her day, and,
in the second place, she goes decidedly beyond those ideas in the
direction of sympathy. Her treatment of some of her own equals leaves
much more to desire. The account of Madame de Brinvilliers'
sufferings--unworthy of much pity as the victim was--is callous to
brutality, and it seems to be sufficient for any one to have ever
offended Madame de Grignan, or to have spoken slightingly of her, to put
him, or her, out of the pale of even ordinary human sympathy. But no
other fault can be found. For vivid social portraiture the book equals
Saint Simon at his best, while it is far more uniformly good. The
letters describing the engagement of La Grande Mademoiselle to Lauzun,
the death of Vatel, the trial of Fouquet, the Vichy sojourn, the meeting
of the states of Britanny, and many others, are not to be surpassed in
this respect. Unlike Saint Simon, too, Madame de Sévigné has no fixed
idea--except that of Madame de Grignan's perfections, which rarely
interferes--to prevent her from taking fresh, original, and acute views
of things in general as distinguished from mere court intrigues. Her
literary criticism is excellent, and if she somewhat overvalues
moralists like Nicole and novelists like Mademoiselle de Scudéry, who
ministered to her peculiar tastes, her remarks on the great preachers,
on La Fontaine, on Corneille and Racine, display a singular insight as
well as a singular power of expression. She is, indeed, except in
politics, on which few persons of her class had at the time any clear or
distinct ideas, never superficial; and this union of just thought with
accurate observation and exceptional power of expression makes her
position in literature.

[Sidenote: Tallemant des Réaux.]

Madame de Sévigné, so to speak, dwarfs all other letter-writers of her
time. Yet many of those already mentioned under the head of memoirs left
letters which have been preserved, and which are of merit. It is,
however, not necessary to specify any except Madame de Maintenon, whose
correspondence is voluminous and important both as history and as
literature. It has not the charm of Madame de Sévigné, but it displays
the great intellectual powers of the writer[262]. Of a very different
kind, but not less worthy of notice are the letters of Guy Patin, which
are for the most part violent _Mazarinades_, and full of scandalous
anecdotes, but full also of lively wit. Scandal, indeed, was very much
the order of the day, as appears from the large and curious collection
of broadsheets and pamphlets republished by the late M. Fournier in his
_Variétés Historiques et Littéraires_[263]. These, most of which refer
to the present period, form a kind of appendix to historical and
biographical writing of the more serious kind. There is, however, one
remarkable work which remains to be noticed, and which, for want of a
better place for it, must be noticed here, the _Historiettes_ of
Tallemant des Réaux[264]. The author of this singular book, Gédéon
Tallemant des Réaux, was born at La Rochelle about 1619, and died in
1692. He was of a family not noble but wealthy and well connected, and
he himself was able, by marriage with a cousin who was an heiress, to
live without any profession, and to purchase an estate and seignory of
some importance. Little, however, is known of his life except that he
was much at the Hôtel de Rambouillet in his youth, and that in his old
age he underwent some not clearly defined misfortune or disgrace. The
_Historiettes_ were written in the years immediately preceding 1660, and
form an almost complete commentary on the persons most celebrated in
society and literature for three quarters of a century before that date.
There is no other book to which they can be exactly compared, though
they have, with much less literary excellence, a certain resemblance in
form to the work of Brantôme. They are, as published by Monmerqué, 376
in number, filling five (nominally ten) stout volumes. Each is as a rule
headed with the name of a single person, though there are a few general
or subject headings. The articles themselves are not regular
biographies, but collections of anecdotes, not unfrequently of the most
scandalous kind. Tallemant, though by no means of small ability, appears
to have been a somewhat malicious person, and not too careful to examine
the value of the stories he tells, especially when they bear heavily on
the old nobility, of whom, as a new man, he was very jealous. Yet his
sources of information were in many cases good, and his statements are
confirmed by independent evidence sufficiently often to show that, if
they are in other cases to be accepted with caution, they are not the
work of a mere libeller. No one, even in that century of unstinted
personal revelations, has taken us so much behind the scenes, and
certainly no one has left a more amusing book of its kind or (with the
proper precautions) a more valuable one.

[Sidenote: Historical Antiquaries.]

[Sidenote: Du Cange.]

The class of learned investigators into the sources of history cannot be
omitted in any account of French literature; though their work was
chiefly in Latin, and though even when it was not it was rather of value
as material for future literature than as literature itself. This
century and the earlier part of the succeeding one were the palmy time
of really laborious erudition--the work of the Benedictines and
Bollandists, and of many isolated writers worthy of being ranked with
the members of these famous communities. The individuals composing this
class are, however, too numerous, and, from the purely literary view,
too unimportant to detain us. Exceptions may be made in favour of André
Duchesne, whose collections of French and Norman Chronicles, and his
genealogical histories of the houses of Laval and Vergi, are valuable
examples of their kind; of Mabillon, famous for his labours in
hagiology, in the history of France, and above all in that of Italy; and
lastly, of Du Cange. The last-named has a special right to a place here
because, both directly and indirectly, he did much towards the
rediscovery of old French literature. Du Cange was his seignorial style,
his personal name being Charles Dufresne. He devoted himself to the
study of the middle ages generally, and particularly of the Byzantine
Empire. He edited Joinville, wrote a history of the Latin Empire, and in
his most famous work, the _Glossarium Mediae et Infimae Latinitatis_,
contributed not a little to the study of the oldest form of French.


[253] The following paragraph contains, except as far as Mézeray is
concerned, chiefly second-hand information. I have hitherto been unable
to devote the time necessary to enable me to speak at first hand of
these books, which are very bulky, not as a rule interesting or
important in manner, and for the most part long obsolete in matter.

[254] The legend, familiar probably to most readers, is that Vertot
required documents for his account of a certain military operation.
Tired with waiting for them, he constructed the history out of his own
head, and when they arrived made the ejaculation in the text.

[255] This, with some other of the pieces here mentioned, will be found
in two volumes of the _Collection Didot_, entitled _Petits Chefs
d'oeuvre Historiques_.

[256] Ed. Feillet, Gourdault and Chantelauze. Paris (in progress).

[257] Ed. Gilbert et Gourdault. Paris, 1868-81.

[258] Ed. Feuillet de Conches. 19 vols. Paris, 1854-61.

[259] Memoirs, ed. Chéruel. 20 vols. Paris, 1873. Now being re-edited by
M. de Boislisle. Miscellaneous works are also appearing.

[260] Ed. Bertrand et de Cosnac. Vol. i. Paris, 1882.

[261] Ed. Monmerqué. 14 vols. Paris, 1861-66, to which must be added 2
vols. of _Lettres Inédites_ discovered and published by M. Capmas.

[262] A full and excellently edited selection has been given by A.
Geffroy. 2 vols. Paris, 1887.

[263] 10 vols. Paris, 1855-63.

[264] 10 vols. in 5. Ed. Monmerqué. Third edition. Paris, n. d.



The enormous popularity which the Essays of Montaigne enjoyed could not
fail to raise up imitators and followers in the century succeeding their
publication. But Montaigne's influence on the production of short
pieces, complete in themselves and having for the most part an ethical
bearing, was supplemented by the feature of the time so often referred
to, the fancy for literary _coteries_, and for wit combats between the
members of those _coteries_. For this latter purpose pieces of moderate
length in prose, corresponding to the sonnets, the madrigals, and
such-like things in verse, were well suited. The Academy, too, with its
competitions and its ordinary critical occupations, stimulated literary
production in the same direction. The essay was therefore much
cultivated in the seventeenth century, and not a few minor styles of
composition descended from it. Such were the _Pensée_, a short essay on
some definite and briefly handled point; the _Conversation_, an essay or
sketch in dialogue; the _Portrait_, a sketch of personal character; the
_Maxime_, a condensed _Pensée_, just as the _Pensée_ was a condensed
essay. In these various styles some of the most excellent work existing
in French literature was composed during the time which we are at
present handling; and four names of the first, or almost the first rank
in literary history, Pascal, La Rochefoucauld, La Bruyère, and Saint
Evremond, belong to this division, besides not a few others of less
importance. Pascal, indeed, might be almost as well treated in either of
the two following chapters as in the present; but if the substance of
his work is for the most part philosophical or theological, the form of
it seems to fall more suitably under the present head. He does not,
however, open the series of Essayists.

[Sidenote: Balzac.]

Something of Montaigne's manner, as well as of his peculiar sceptical
doubt, which nevertheless does not transcend the limits of orthodoxy,
was continued far into the century by La Mothe le Vayer, a man of
talent, but of some deliberate eccentricity and archaism in costume and
manners as in style. But the most important name in the history of
French prose next after that of Montaigne is that of Jean Guez de
Balzac, who occupies nearly the same place in it as Malherbe does in
that of French poetry. Balzac was a gentleman of rank and fortune in the
province of Angoumois, where he was born towards the end of the
sixteenth century, and where he died in 1655. In his younger days he
served in some diplomatic employments, then for a long time resided in
Paris, and finally retired to his country seat. Balzac's works are
almost entirely of the essay character, though they are sufficiently
diverse, and for the most part rather artificial in form. The most
considerable part of them is composed of letters--not such letters as
have been discussed in the preceding chapter, but elaborate epistles
written deliberately for the sake of writing, and with a definite
attempt at style. Besides these, which are very numerous, Balzac was
also the author of discourses on various subjects and of certain
nondescript works of an ethico-political character, the principal and
best known of which is the _Socrate Chrétien_. In all, his work was
sufficient to fill two folio volumes when it was collected[265]. Balzac
is a really remarkable figure in literary history, because he is, in his
own tongue and nation, almost the first person who deliberately wrote
for the sake of writing, and not because he had anything particular to
say. The practice is perhaps not one to be commended to the general run
of men at any time, or even to exceptional men, except at a peculiar
time. But done as it was, and when it was, Balzac's work was really of
importance and advantage to his countrymen. The prose literature of the
sixteenth century had been admirable, but it had not resulted in the
elaboration of any general style of all work. Each writer had followed
his instincts, and when those instincts were under the guidance of
genius, as they frequently were, many writers had produced admirable
results. But the general use of the printing press, and the adaptation
of literature to all sorts of journey-work, made it imperatively
necessary that the tools should be put ready fashioned into the hands of
ordinary workmen instead of each man having to manufacture them for
himself. Various steps had been taken in this direction. Guillaume du
Vair had already written a _Traité de l'Éloquence Française_; Vaugelas,
a Savoyard by birth, was shortly to undertake some valuable _Remarques_
on French grammar and style, which long remained a standard book. But
not many examples of deliberate composition had been given. It was these
examples of deliberate composition which Balzac furnished, and which, in
a lighter and more graceful fashion, and to a more limited circle, were
also given by the letters of the poet Voiture. Balzac, as is natural in
the first attempts at a polished prose style, has the drawback of being
somewhat rhetorical and occasionally ponderous. But the important point
is that the mechanism of the clause, the sentence, and the paragraph has
evidently been considered by him, and that he has succeeded in getting
it into very tolerable condition. His sentences no longer run on to the
interminable length of earlier writers, or finish in the haphazard
manner, neglectful of rhythm, balance, and proportion, also noticeable
in his predecessors. The substitution of the full stop for the
conjunction, which, speaking generally, may be said to be the initiating
secret of style (though of course it must not be applied too
indiscriminately), is at once apparent in Balzac's best passages, and he
rarely falls into the error which waits on this substitution, the error
of scrappiness. His style is perhaps better suited to oratory than to
writing; a not unlikely result, since his models were pretty obviously
the classical orators. But there can be no doubt that to him in no small
part is due the extraordinary outburst of rhetorical power which
distinguished the preachers of the latter half of the century. Nor was
it long before what was faulty in Balzac's style was corrected by the
example of very different writers.

[Sidenote: Pascal.]

Blaise Pascal[266] was born at Clermont, in Auvergne, on the 19th of
June, 1623. His father was President of the Court of Aids, but when the
boy was eight years old the family moved to Paris. Pascal was one of the
small number of extraordinarily precocious children who have justified
their precocity by genius equally extraordinary in after-life; but it
does not appear that he was forced by his father (who took the whole
charge of his education), and it is said that he did not begin Latin
until he was twelve years old--a very late age for the time.
Mathematics, however, were his chief study and delight, and he early
excelled in them, showing also an extraordinary faculty in applying them
to physics. At nineteen he invented a calculating machine. But his
application to study did not improve his health. He was but
five-and-twenty at the time of his famous experiment with the barometer
on the Puy de Dome in his native province. He was soon exposed to the
philosophical influence of Descartes on the one hand, and the
theological influence of the Jansenists on the other, and he felt both
deeply. His greatest work, the _Provinciales_, appeared in 1656. He died
on the 19th of August, 1662, having long lived in retirement and
asceticism, giving much of his substance to the poor, and abandoning
himself almost entirely to religious, mathematical, and philosophical

We have nothing to do here with his purely mathematical works or those
in natural science. The two books by which he belongs to literature, and
which have placed him among the foremost writers of his country, are the
_Provinciales_ and the so-called _Pensées_. The former were regularly
published by himself in his lifetime, though they were ostensibly
anonymous, or rather pseudonymous. The _Pensées_ consist of scattered
reflections, which were found in his papers after his death. They were
published, but, as has been discovered of late years, with much omission
and garbling, and the restoration of them to their authentic form has
been effected in comparatively recent times.

The famous title of _Les Provinciales_ is only a convenient abbreviation
of the original, which is _Lettres Ecrites par Louis de Montalte à un
Provincial de ses Amis et aux Révérends Pères Jésuites sur le Sujet de
la Morale et de la Politique de ces Pères_. This somewhat cumbrous
appellation has at any rate the merit of exactly describing the
contents of the book, except that Louis de Montalte is of course a
pseudonym. The letters were written at the height of the early struggle
(which had not yet been interfered with by the secular arm) of
Jansenists and Jesuits, and they inflicted on the famous society a blow
from which it has never wholly recovered, and from which it can never
wholly recover. The method and style of Pascal are entirely original,
except in so far as a slight trace of indebtedness to Descartes may be
observed in the first respect, and a slight debt to Montaigne and the
_Satire Ménippée_ in the second. His great weapon is polite irony, which
he first brought to perfection, and in the use of which he has hardly
been equalled and has certainly not been surpassed since. The intricate
casuistries of the Jesuits are unfolded in the gravest fashion and
without the least exaggeration or burlesque, but with a running comment
or rather insinuation of sarcasm which is irresistible. The author never
breaks out into a laugh, never allows himself to be declamatory and
indignant. There is always a smile on his countenance, but never
anything more pronounced than a smile. Yet the contempt of this is more
crushing than that of the bitterest invective. In the later letters
indeed the mask of irony is to a certain extent dropped, and a more
serious tone is taken. But effective as these are they are not the most
effective part of the _Provinciales_. That part is the earlier one, in
which, without dry scholastic argument, without the coarse abuse which
the sixteenth century had regarded as inseparable from theological
controversy, and at the same time with almost absolute accuracy of
statement--for the misrepresentations which two centuries of eager and
able apologists for the Order have been able to detect are
insignificant--the author carried the discussion out of the schools into
the drawing-room, made every man of fair education and breeding a judge
of it, and triumphantly brought the judgment of the vast majority of
such men on his side. To this day Pascal, with Swift and Courier, is the
greatest example in modern literature of irony, excelling Swift as much
in elegance and good-breeding as he falls short of him in sombre force,
and having the advantage over his brilliant follower at the beginning of
this century in depth and nobility of thought.

The _Pensées_ supply the reverse side of Pascal's character, and the
supplement to any proper estimate of his literary genius. But from the
circumstances already referred to, they are evidence of a less complete
though an even more genuine kind than the _Provinciales_. The scepticism
which ate so deeply into the heart of the seventeenth century affected
Pascal, though he rarely wavered in point of abstract faith. To few men,
however, was doubt more painful, and as no clearer or more piercing
intellect has ever existed, so to none was doubt more constantly
present. The _Pensées_ in their genuine form exhibit the thoughts to
which this conflict of opinion gave rise in him, and are in remarkable
contrast with the polished and sedate badinage of the letters. But few
if any of them are finally worked up into the form in which the author
would have been likely to present them to the public, and therefore,
from the point of view of pure literary criticism, they require less
notice here than the sister volume.

The revolution, as far as style is concerned, which in point of time is
already noticeable in Descartes, has entirely accomplished itself in
Pascal. The last vestige of archaism, of quaintness of phrase, of
clumsiness in the architecture of the sentence or the paragraph, has
passed away. Indeed, it can hardly be said that two centuries have added
much to the language except in point of richness and adaptation to the
more multifarious needs of the describer in modern times. The style is
extremely simple, but it has none of the monotony, the lack of colour,
and the stereotyped form which are the great drawbacks of French after
Boileau as contrasted with French before him. It is extraordinarily
graphic, sparkling with epigram at every point, and yet never
sacrificing sense to the play of words. The _Pensées_ (which it must
always be remembered were never finally worked up) yield matter which
will compare with the carefully concocted Maxims of La Rochefoucauld or
of Joubert, while the _Provinciales_ are, as has been said,
unsurpassable in their own line. It is probable that most good judges
would allot to Pascal in French the place which Dryden occupies in
English, that is to say, the place of the writer who combines most of
the advantages of the elder and younger manners. But Pascal, who wrote
merely to please himself, had this great advantage over Dryden, that his
work contains no mere journey-work, and especially nothing unworthy of
him. Admirable as it is in style, it is equally admirable in meaning and
in adaptation to that meaning, and it has thus both the sources of
lasting popularity at command. Dealing, moreover, as it does with
subjects of perennial importance and interest, it is almost entirely
exempt from the necessity of comment and explanation which weighs down
much admirable work of past ages. No man, however indisposed to serious
reading, can put down the _Provinciales_ as dull; no man, however
unwilling to read anything that is not serious, can complain of levity
in the _Pensées_. There are few authors in any language who unite as
Pascal does the claims of importance of subject, charm of style, and
bulk, without too great voluminousness of production. He has, moreover,
the additional merit of being in a high degree representative of his
age. That age had grown too complex for one man to reflect the whole of
it, but Pascal and Molière (with perhaps Saint Evremond or La
Rochefoucauld as thirdsman) supply an almost complete reflection.

Saint Evremond[267], who was thirteen years Pascal's senior, and who
outlived him by more than forty years, was, in almost every respect
except intellectual vigour and literary faculty, his opposite. He was a
Norman by birth (Charles de Marguetel de Saint Denis was his proper
name), and was born in 1610. He was educated by the Jesuits, entered the
army early, served through the later campaigns of the Thirty Years' War
and in the Fronde, was a favourite of Condé's but fell into disgrace
with him, and after the fall of Fouquet, which led to the discovery of
his very able and very uncourtly letter on the Peace of the Pyrenees,
also incurred the king's displeasure. This displeasure is said to have
been aggravated by his notorious membership of the freethinking and
materialist school which Gassendi, if he had not founded it, had helped
to spread. Saint Evremond was practically if not formally banished, and
the time of his misfortune coinciding pretty nearly with the
Restoration in England, he made his way thither, was well received by
the king and his courtiers, many of whom he had known in their exile,
and dwelt in London for almost the whole remainder of his long life. He
died in 1703, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. His works are almost
entirely occasional, consisting of 'conversations,' letters,
'portraits,' short literary disquisitions and tractates on subjects of
historical and ethical interest. They display a placid epicurean
philosophy which in its indifference to the assaults of fortune is not
destitute of nobility, an extraordinary catholicity and acuteness of
literary judgment, and remarkable wit and _finesse_. The _Conversation
du Père Canaye_, which is of the same date as the _Provinciales_, is
worthy of Pascal for its irony, and possesses a certain air of being
written by a 'person of quality,' which Saint Evremond could throw over
his writings better almost than any one else. His Portraits, not always
flattering, are full of nervous vigour. But his literary remarks are
perhaps the most surprising of his works. At a time when English
literature was almost unknown in France, and when Boileau ostentatiously
pretended never to have heard of Dryden, Saint Evremond, perhaps with
some assistance from his friend Waller, drew up some masterly remarks on
the humour-comedy of the Jonson school. His criticisms of French plays,
as compared with classical tragedy and comedy, are also full of pregnant
thought; and some comparative studies of his on Corneille and Racine
show a power of detachment and independence which may be due in some
part to the cosmopolitanism given by residence abroad, but which is
certainly due also to native power. From the point of view of literary
history, however, Saint Evremond is perhaps most remarkable as having
formed, in conjunction with Pascal and Bayle, a singular trio, which
supplied Voltaire with the models[268] whence he drew his peculiar style
of persiflage. As far as form is concerned, it may be fairly said that
Saint Evremond was the most influential of the three. Like many other
men of his time he rarely published anything in the ordinary way, and it
was not till very late in life that he empowered Desmaizeaux to issue
an authorised edition of work that had either circulated in manuscript
or been piratically printed.

[Sidenote: La Rochefoucauld.]

François de Marcillac[269], Duke de la Rochefoucauld, was born in 1613
of one of the noblest families of France. His father had just been
created duke and peer, the highest honour possible to a French subject,
and for many years the son was known under the title of Prince de
Marcillac. He was very imperfectly educated, but was early sent to serve
in the army and introduced to the court. Young as he was, he was deeply
engaged in the various intrigues against Richelieu, chiefly in
consequence of his affection for the celebrated Madame de Chevreuse.
After Richelieu's death and the comparative effacement of Madame de
Chevreuse, he transferred his affections to Madame de Longueville and
his aversion to Mazarin. He was one of the chiefs of the Princes' party,
and fought all through the Fronde, winning a reputation, not so much for
military skill as for the most reckless bravery. The establishment of
the royal authority first sent him into retirement, and then reduced him
to the position of an ordinary courtier. This last period of his life
was distinguished by a third attachment to a lady hardly less celebrated
than either of his former loves, Madame de la Fayette, the author of _La
Princesse de Clèves_, in which novel he is said to figure under another
name. He was also an intimate friend of Madame de Sévigné. In the latter
part of his life he suffered terribly from gout, and died of that
disease in 1680.

His Memoirs have been already noticed. The more famous and far more
remarkable Maxims were published shortly afterwards, and at once
attained a wide popularity. The first edition appeared in 1665, and four
others were published, with considerable alterations and additions,
during the author's lifetime, in 1666, 1671, 1675, and 1678. After his
death a sixth edition was published by Claude Barbin, containing fifty
new maxims, the authenticity of which is uncertain but probable.

The fullest authoritative edition of La Rochefoucauld's Maxims contains
504 separate paragraphs, to which, besides the fifty just noticed, about
another fifty can be added by restoring those which the author
suppressed during his lifetime. The last, which is avowedly a kind of
appendix, and on a different plan from the others, extends to a couple
of pages. But the average length of the remainder is not more than three
or four lines, and many do not contain more than a dozen words. The art
of compressing thought and then pointedly expressing it has never been
pushed so far except by Joubert, and hardly even by him. All La
Rochefoucauld's maxims, without exception, are on ethical subjects, and
with a certain allowance they may be said to be generally concerned with
the reduction of the motives and conduct of men to the single principle
of self-love. In consequence, accusations of misanthropy, of unfairness,
of short-sightedness, have been showered upon the author by those who do
not like a spade to be called a spade. We have nothing to do with the
moral side of the matter here, and it is sufficient to say that La
Rochefoucauld is not an advocate of the selfish or any other school of
moralists. He is simply an observer, setting down with the utmost
literary skill the results of a long life of unusual experience in
business and pleasure of every kind. He is a man of science who has got
together a large collection of facts, and who expounds and arranges them
on a certain coherent and sufficient hypothesis. As a work of literary
art the result of his exposition is unrivalled. The whole of the Maxims,
even with the doubtful or rejected ones, need not occupy more than a
hundred pages, and they contain matter which in the hands of an ordinary
writer would have filled a dozen volumes. Yet there is no undue
compression. It is impossible ever to mistake the meaning, though the
comprehension of the full application of that meaning depends, of
course, on the intellectual equipment and social experience of the
reader. The clearness with which Descartes had first endowed French is
here displayed in its very highest degree. The style, as was unavoidable
in work of the kind, is entirely devoid of ornament. Imagery is wholly
absent, and though metaphorical expressions abound, they are of the
plainest and simplest kind of metaphor. The philosophical language of
the day is present, but in no very prominent measure. The motto of the
book (at least in the fourth and fifth editions), 'Nos vertus ne sont le
plus souvent que des vices déguisés,' is a very fair example of the
simple straightforward fashion of La Rochefoucauld's style. Sometimes,
but rarely, the author explains his meaning, and slightly lengthens his
phrase by repeating the sentiment in a somewhat different form, as thus,
'Le plaisir de l'amour est d'aimer, et l'on est plus heureux par la
passion qu'on a que par celle que l'on donne.' But even here it is to be
observed that the explanation is in a manner necessary to take off the
air of sententious enigma, which the words 'le plaisir de l'amour est
d'aimer' might have had by themselves. La Rochefoucauld is never
enigmatical, rarely sententious merely, and is almost indifferent to the
production of _mots_. How continually the study of brevity, combined
with precision, occupied the author, and how severe he was on any
exuberance, can be seen very instructively in the successive alterations
of his work. Thus, in the first edition Maxim 295 ran, 'La jeunesse est
une ivresse continuelle, c'est la fièvre de la santé, c'est la folie de
la raison;' but La Rochefoucauld seems to have thought this unduly
pleonastic, and it appears later as 'La jeunesse est une ivresse
continuelle, c'est la fièvre de la raison,' the improvement of which in
point and freshness is sufficiently obvious. The result of this process
is that the best of these Maxims are absolutely unrivalled in their own
peculiar style, and that all subsequent writers in the same style have
taken their form as a model. French critics have, as a rule, rather
under-than over-estimated the purely literary talent of La
Rochefoucauld. But this is due to two causes: first, to the supposed
antagonism of his spirit to conventional morality; secondly, to the fact
that he somewhat anticipated the writers of the particular period which
for a century and a half was the idol of academic criticism. His
language is rather that of Louis XIII. than of Louis XIV., and in his
words and phrases there is a certain archaism, not to say an occasional
irregularity, which critics who look only at the stop-watch apparently
find it hard to forgive.

[Sidenote: La Bruyère.]

These critics generally give the palm of style, as concerns writing of
this kind, to Jean de la Bruyère[270]. Less is known of the personal
history of this author than of that of any contemporary writer of great
eminence. He was born at Paris, in August 1645, and his family appears
to have been anciently connected with the law. He must have been a man
of some means and of good education, for he had just bought himself an
important financial post at Caen, when, on the recommendation of
Bossuet, he was appointed Historical Preceptor to Duke Louis of Bourbon,
the grandson of Condé, in whose household he continued till his death in
1696. He had published his _Caractères_ in 1687, and was elected to the
Academy in 1693.

The works of La Bruyère consist of the _Caractères_ just mentioned, of a
translation of Theophrastus, of a few literary discourses, and
(probably) of some chapters on Quietism, written on the side of his
patron Bossuet during the great controversy with Fénelon, but not
published till after the author's death. The _Caractères_ alone are of
much importance or interest.

The design of this curious and celebrated book is taken, like its title,
from Theophrastus, but the plan is very much altered as well as
extended. Instead of copying directly the abstract qualities of
Theophrastus and his brief, pregnant, but somewhat artificial and jejune
description of them, La Bruyère adopted a scheme much better suited to
his own age. He took for the most part actual living people, well known
to all his readers, and, disguising them thinly under names of the kind
which the romances of the middle of the century had rendered
fashionable, made them body forth the characters he wished to define and
satirise. These portraits he inserted in a framework not altogether
unlike that of the Montaigne essay, preserving no very consecutive plan,
but passing from moral reflection to literary criticism, and from
literary criticism to one of the half-personal, half-moralising
portraits just mentioned, with remarkable ease and skill. The titles of
his chapters are rather more indicative of their actual contents than
those of Montaigne's essays, but they represent, for the most part,
merely very elastic frames, in which the author's various observations
and reflections are mounted. The result of this variety, not to say
desultoriness, combined as it is with the display of very great literary
art, is that La Bruyère's is a book of almost unparalleled interest to
take up and lay down at odd moments. Its apparently continuous form and
its intermixture of narrative save it from the appearance of severity
which the avowed Maxim or Pensée has; while the bond between the
different chapters, and even the different paragraphs, is so slight that
interruption is not felt to be annoying. Even now, when the zest of
personal malice, which, as Malézieux remarked to the author, made him
sure beforehand of 'plenty of readers and plenty of enemies,' is past,
it is a most interesting book to read; and it is especially interesting
to Englishmen, because there is no doubt that the English essayists of
the Queen Anne school directly modelled themselves upon it.

It has been objected to La Bruyère that he is less of a thinker than of
a clever writer, and there is truth in the objection. He was possessed
of a remarkable shrewdness, common sense, and soundness of taste; thus,
for instance, he protests energetically against the foolish pedantry
which rejected as obsolete many of the most useful and most picturesque
words in French, and so sets himself directly against the dominant and
very unfortunate literary influence of his time, that of Boileau. Yet he
himself wrote in the fashionable style, and in the language rather of
Racine than of Corneille. A further objection, also a just one, is that
his characters are too much of their age and not of all time. This
objection, indeed, applies to almost all writers after 1660, except
Molière, and La Fontaine, and La Rochefoucauld. But La Bruyère (though
there are some sarcastic insinuations which seem to hint that his range
was wider than he chose to show) is as unwilling to disentangle himself
from Versailles and Paris as his English followers are to extend their
gaze to something beyond 'the town.' Nor is there the force and vigour
about La Bruyère's moral reflections that there is about La
Rochefoucauld's. They are frequently commonplace, sometimes even
platitudinous, and the author occasionally falls into what is perhaps
the most dangerous pitfall for a moralist and social satirist, the
adoption of stock butts and types. It is indeed most probable that La
Bruyère was one of those who, according to a famous phrase of his enemy
and successor, Fontenelle, 'may have their hands full of truth, but may
not care to open more than their little finger.' He was not, like La
Rochefoucauld, a great noble with the liberty of the Fronde in his mind,
but a man of no exalted rank, living in the most absolute period of
Louis the Fourteenth's rule. His remark that 'les grands sujets sont
défendus' is a pregnant one, especially when it is remembered how near
to the 'grands sujets' (as, for instance, in his oblique denunciation of
the misery of the French peasantry) he sometimes goes. But his style,
though looser than that of his forerunner, and destitute of the
character of sharp and enduring sculpture which is impressed on the
_Maxims_, is a model of ease, grace, and fluency without weakness[271].


[265] He has not recently been re-edited, but a selection was published
in 1822.

[266] Editions of Pascal are numerous, but a complete and definite one
is still wanting. Of the _Pensées_, etc., the editions of Faugère,
Havet, and Rocher may be mentioned; of the _Provinciales_, the edition
of 1867.

[267] Ed. Giraud. 3 vols. Paris, 1866. (A selection only, but containing
almost everything of importance.)

[268] Perhaps Anthony Hamilton should be added, as a channel of
communication with Saint Evremond and some of the seventeenth century

[269] Ed. as before noticed. The _Maxims_ have been constantly reprinted
by themselves.

[270] Ed. Servois. Paris, 1865-1882.

[271] Under the head of this chapter, in an exhaustive history, not a
few classes of writers might be ranged. Such are, besides great numbers
of miscellaneous writers of criticism from Corneille in his _Examens_
downwards, the classical commentators, editors, and translators. Few of
these have left a very enduring reputation. In the earlier part of the
century Perrot d'Ablancourt, a fertile translator, may be mentioned. His
work was so free that his versions were called 'les belles infidèles,'
but Boileau himself admitted that he was a master of French style. In
the latter part the best-known and perhaps the most remarkable name is
that of the still famous Madame Dacier. Many of the early members of the
Academy, and some who never attained to its ranks, have left a
reputation more anecdotic than strictly literary, such as Ménage (a
representative of the class), Cotin, Costar, Bautru, etc. But they can
only be alluded to here. Law also contributed in the person of Patru, a
writer for the most part on professional topics, but occasionally on
literature, who is ranked by Boileau with Perrot d'Ablancourt in respect
of style.



The history of literature and the history of philosophy touch each other
only at certain points of their course. There are periods (the
nineteenth century itself is perhaps an example) when the study of
philosophy is almost divorced from style. There are others when the two
are intimately wedded. Nowhere is this latter more the case than in the
seventeenth century, and in France. Much of the most excellent writing
of the time was directed to philosophic subjects. But it so happened
that the great reformer of philosophy in France was also the greatest
reformer of her prose style, and that his greatest disciple carried
philosophical writing, as far as style is concerned, to very nearly, if
not quite, the highest pitch which it has yet attained in French. We
shall not have to concern ourselves in more than the very slightest
degree with the subject of the writings of Descartes and Malebranche,
but they have as legitimate a place in the history of French literature
as they have in that of European philosophy.

[Sidenote: Descartes.]

René Descartes[272] was born at La Haye in Touraine on the 31st of
March, 1596. His family belonged by descent to the province in which he
was born, but by occupation and official position (as well it would seem
as by possessions) to Britanny. It was of noble rank, though only of
_noblesse de robe_, and possessed enough landed property to leave
estates and territorial designations to two sons. Thus René was Seigneur
du Perron, though, quite contrary to the wont of the day, he never made
use of the title. He was of weak health both at this time and
afterwards, and, unlike most of his contemporaries, did not begin his
studies very early. In 1604 he was sent to the Jesuit College of La
Flèche, and remained there nearly eight years. After a short stay at
home he was sent to Paris, where he divided his time between ordinary
pursuits and amusements on the one hand, and hard study on the other. In
1617, when he had just attained his majority, he joined the army as a
volunteer, and the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War soon gave him
plenty of employment. He visited various parts of Europe, partly on
duty, partly as an ordinary traveller. First he served for two years at
Breda under Prince Maurice of Nassau, pursuing the same mixture of study
and routine employments. Then he went to Germany, where in his winter
quarters his great philosophical idea, as he has told in memorable
words, flashed across him. He served in various parts of the empire, and
in Hungary and Bohemia, but left the army in 1621 and went to Holland,
experiencing on the way a curious and dangerous adventure. After a year
at the Hague he went home, and was put in possession of his share of his
mother's property. He visited Italy, where he made a pilgrimage to
Loretto, then returned to France, and dwelt in Paris for some time;
resuming however his military character for a while, and serving at the
siege of La Rochelle. At last, in 1628, being then thirty-two years old,
he left the service finally, and gave himself up wholly to the study of
philosophy. For this purpose he retired to Holland, where he was still
somewhat restless[273]. But his chief centres were successively
Amsterdam, Egmond, not far from Alkmaar, and Endegeest, within easy
distance of the Hague. He returned to France more than once, and was
asked to settle at court, receiving from Mazarin a pension of 3000
livres. But the troubles of the Fronde made Paris a distasteful and
unsuitable residence for him. He then accepted, at the end of 1649, an
invitation from Queen Christina of Sweden and went to Stockholm, where
the severe weather and the gracious habit which the queen had of
summoning him for discussion at five o'clock in the morning (he had all
his life when not on active service made a point of not rising till
eleven), put an end to his life, by inflammation of the lungs, on Feb.
11, 1650.

The works of Descartes are numerous, though few of them are of very
great extent. He wrote a treatise (not now extant) on the art of fencing
when he was but sixteen; and during the succeeding years small treatises
on different points, chiefly of mathematics and natural theology,
constantly issued from his pen, though he was not a ready writer. The
works which alone concern us here are his famous _Discours de la
Méthode_, 1637, and his letters. The _Méditations_, of equal importance
philosophically with the _Discours_, and the _Principia Philosophiæ_, a
rehandling of the two, were originally published in Latin. No attempt
can here be made to give any account of Descartes' mathematical,
physical, and metaphysical speculations, or of the means by which he
endeavoured to work out his great principle, that all knowledge springs
from certain ideas clearly and distinctly conceived, and is deducible
mathematically, or rather logically, from these principles.

Until and including Victor Cousin, who, though his own style has some
drawbacks, was a keen judge and a fervent admirer of the best classical
French, French writers have always regarded the style of Descartes as
one of the most remarkable, and above all the most original in the
language. There cannot be the slightest doubt in the mind of any one
historically acquainted with that language, and accustomed to judge
style critically, that the opinion is a thoroughly sound one. Of late,
however, there have been dissidents, and their opinion has been
strangely adopted by the latest English biographer of Descartes[274].
Controversy as a rule is out of place in these pages, but on this
particular point, involving as it does one of the most important
questions in French literary history--the proper distribution of the
epochs of style--an exception must be made. According to Mr. Mahaffy's
view it is Descartes' few letters to Balzac which have gained him a
reputation for style, but he is 'seldom more than clear and correct;' he
is 'seldom grand, not often amusing.' The temptation to enlarge on this
singular definition of style as that which is grand or amusing must be
resisted. Those who have followed the foregoing pages will perceive
that the refusal to recognise in a writer who is 'seldom more than clear
and correct' (Descartes is a great deal more than this, but no matter)
the characteristics of a master of style arises from ignorance of what
the characteristics and drawbacks of French style had hitherto been.

Prose style may be divided, as conveniently as in any other way, into
the style of description or narration, and the style of discussion or
argument. The former deals with the imagination, with the passions, with
outward events, with conversation; the latter with the reason only. The
former propounds images, the latter ideas. The former constructs a
picture, the latter reduces words to their simplest terms as symbols of
thought. French had been making very rapid progress in the former
division of style, though there was much left to be done; in the latter
it was yet entirely at its rudiments. Before Descartes there are three
masters of this latter style, and three only, Rabelais, Calvin, and
Montaigne. There is little doubt that Rabelais might have anticipated
Descartes, had it not been for the fact, first, that, except on rare
occasions, he chose to wrap himself in the grotesque; and, secondly,
that he came before the innovations of the Pléiade had enriched the
language, and the reaction against the Pléiade had pruned off the
superfluity of richness. Calvin was also exposed to this second
drawback, and had besides a defect of idiosyncrasy in a certain dryness
and heaviness allied with, and partly resulting from, a too close
adherence to Latin forms. Montaigne again, like Rabelais, deliberately
refuses to be bound by the mere requirements of argument, and expatiates
into all sorts of digressions, partaking of the other style, the style
of description. If any one will take the famous passage of Descartes
already referred to (the passage in which he describes how being in
winter quarters, with nothing to do and sitting all day long by a warm
stove, he started the train of thought which ended or began in _Cogito
ergo sum_), and, having a good acquaintance with the three authors just
mentioned, will imagine how the same facts and arguments would have
appeared in their language, he will not find it difficult to realise the
difference. The grotesque by-play and the archaic vocabulary of
_Gargantua_, the garrulous digression and anecdote of the _Essays_, are
not more strikingly absent than the jejune scholasticism which is the
worse side of Calvin's grave and noble style. The author does not think
it necessary to attract his readers with ornament, nor to repel them
with dry and barren marshalling of technicalities. All is simple,
straightforward, admirably clear, but at the same time the prose is
fluent, modulated, harmonious, and possesses, if not the grace of
superadded ornament, those of perfect proportion and unerring choice of

As a prose writer Descartes is generally compared to his contemporary,
and in some sort predecessor, Balzac, and his advantage over the author
of the _Socrate Chrétien_ is stated to lie chiefly in the superiority of
his matter. This is not quite the fact. Balzac had, indeed, aimed at the
simplicity and classical perfection of Descartes, but he had not
attained it; he still has much of the quaintness of Montaigne, though it
must be remembered that in comparisons of this kind censure bestowed on
the authors compared is relative not positive, and that Descartes could
no more have written the _Essays_ than Montaigne the _Discours_.
Descartes has almost entirely discarded this quaintness, which sometimes
passed into what is called in French _clinquant_, that is to say, tawdry
and grotesque ornament. It is a peculiarity of his that no single
description of his sentences fully describes their form. They are always
perfectly clear, but they are sometimes very long. Their length,
however, as is the case with some English authors of the same century,
is more apparent than real, the writer having chosen to link by
conjunctions clauses which are independently finished, and which, by
different punctuation even without the omission of the conjunction,
might stand alone. The mistake of saying that Descartes is nothing more
than clear and correct can only arise from an imperfect appreciation of
the language. Let, for instance, his condemnation of scholastic method
in the _Discours_ be taken. Here the matter is interesting enough, and
the comparison with the gorgeous but unphilosophical disdain which Bacon
is wont to pour on the studies of the past is interesting also. But we
are busied with the form. In the first place, any one must be struck
with the modernness of the phrase and style. With insignificant
exceptions there is nothing which would not be most excellent French
to-day. Further examination of the phrase will show that there is much
more in it than mere clearness and correctness, admirably clear and
correct as it is. There is no 'spilth of adjectives,' as it has been
termed. The words are just so many as are necessary for clear, correct,
and elegant expression of the thought. But it is in the selection of
them that the master of style appears. The happy phrase, 'La gentillesse
des fables réveille l'esprit;' the comparison of the reading of the best
authors not merely to a conversation, but a _conversation étudiée_, in
which the speakers 'show only their best thoughts;' the contrast between
eloquence and poetry (too often forgotten by the writer's countrymen);
the ironic touch[275] in the eulogium on philosophy; all these things
show style in its very rarest and highest form--the form which enables
the writer to say the most, and to say it most forcibly with the least
expenditure of the stores of the dictionary. One sees at once that the
requirement of one of the greatest French writers of our time, that the
master of style 'shall be able to express at once any idea that presents
itself requiring expression,' is fully, and more than fully, met by
Descartes; and one sees also how the miracles of expression which
Pascal, La Rochefoucauld, Bossuet, were to produce became possible, and
who showed them the way. It may be asserted, without the slightest fear,
that the more thoroughly Descartes is studied with the necessary
apparatus of knowledge, the more firmly will his claims in this
direction be established.

It is not superfluous to call attention to the fact that the _Discours
de la Méthode_ appeared within a few months of the _Cid_. Thus it
happened that the first complete models of French classical style in
prose and verse, and two of the most remarkable examples of that style
which have ever been produced, were given to the public as nearly as
possible contemporaneously. This fact, and the brilliant group of
imitators who almost immediately availed themselves of the examples,
prove satisfactorily how powerful were the influences which produced the
change, and over how wide a circle they worked. As the influence of
Descartes was thus no less literary than philosophical, it followed
naturally enough that his school (which soon included almost all the men
of intellectual eminence in France) preserved literary as well as
philosophical traditions. This school, so far as it concerns French
literature, may be said to have produced two remarkable individuals and
one remarkable group. The group was the school of Port Royal; the
individuals were Malebranche and Bayle.

[Sidenote: Port Royal.]

We are not here concerned with the religious fortunes of the community
of Port Royal[276]. It is sufficient to say that it was originally a
nunnery at no great distance from Versailles, that it underwent a great
religious revival under the influence of St. Francis de Sales and Mère
Angélique Arnauld, and that, chiefly owing to the inspiration of the
Abbé de St. Cyran, there was engrafted on it a community of _Solitaires_
of the other sex, who busied themselves in study, in religious
exercises, in manual labour, and in the education of youth. The society
was early imbued with Jansenist principles, which brought it into
violent conflict with the Jesuits, and eventually led to its persecution
and destruction. It was also the head-quarters of a somewhat modified
Cartesianism, and this, with its importance as a centre of literary
instruction and its intimate connection with many famous men of letters,
such as Pascal, Nicole, and Racine, gives it a place in the history of
literature. The most remarkable work of an educational kind which
proceeded from it was the famous Port Royal Logic, or 'Art of Thinking,'
which seems to have been a work of collaboration, Arnauld and Nicole
being the chief authors. This, though open to criticism from the point
of view of the logician, had a very great influence in making the
methodical treatment and clear luminous exposition which were
characteristic of the Cartesian school common in French writers. Of the
two authors just mentioned, Arnauld was the greater thinker, Nicole by
far the better writer. He was, in fact, a sort of minor Pascal, his
_Lettres sur les Visionnaires_ corresponding to the _Provinciales_ of
his greater contemporary, while he was the author of _Pensées_, which,
unlike Pascal's, were regularly finished, and which, though much
inferior to them, have something of the same character. The
intellectual activity of Port Royal was very considerable, but most of
it was directed into channels which were not purely literary, owing
partly to incessant controversies brought on by the differences between
the community and the Jesuits, partly to the cultivation of
philosophical subjects. The age was perhaps the most controversial that
Europe has ever seen, and the comparative absence of periodicals (which
were only in their infancy) threw the controversies necessarily into
book form, as letters, pamphlets, or even volumes of considerable size.
But no very large portion of this controversial matter deserves the name
of literature, and much of it was written in Latin. Thus Gassendi, the
upholder of Neo-Epicurean opinions in opposition to Descartes, and
beyond all question the greatest French philosopher of the century after
Descartes and Malebranche, hardly belongs to French literature, though
his Latin works are of great bulk and no small literary merit. The
Gassendian school soon gave birth to a small but influential school of
materialist freethinkers. What may be called the school of orthodox
doubt, which had been represented by Montaigne and Charron, had, as has
been said, a representative in La Mothe le Vayer. But this special kind
of scepticism was already antiquated, if not obsolete, and it was
succeeded, on the one side, by the above-mentioned freethinkers, who
were also to a great extent free livers[277], and whose most remarkable
literary figure was Saint Evremond; on the other, by a school of learned
Pyrrhonists, whose most remarkable representative in every respect was
Pierre Bayle.

[Sidenote: Bayle.]

Bayle was born in the south of France in 1647, and, like almost all the
men of letters of his time, was educated by the Jesuits. He was of a
Protestant family, and was converted by his teachers, his conversion
being however so little of a solid one that he reverted to
Protestantism in less than two years. After this he resided for some
time in Switzerland, studying Cartesianism. In 1675 he was made
Professor of Philosophy at Sedan, a post which he held for six years,
moving thence to Rotterdam. Here he began to write numerous articles and
works in the periodicals, which were slowly becoming fashionable,
especially in Holland. They were mostly critical, and dealt with
scientific, historical, philosophical, and theological subjects. Bayle's
utterances on the latter subject, and especially his pleas for
toleration, brought him into a troublesome controversy with Jurieu, and
in 1693 he was deprived of his professorship, or at least of his right
to lecture. He then devoted himself to the famous Dictionary which is
identified with his name, and which, though by no means the first
encyclopædia of modern times (for Alsten, Moreri, Hoffmann, and others
had preceded him within the century), was by far the most influential
and most original yet produced. It appeared in 1696, and brought him new
troubles, which were not however of a serious character. He died in

The scepticism of which Bayle was the exponent was purely critical and
intellectual. He was not in the least an enemy of the moral system of
Christianity, nor even, it would appear, an enemy to Christianity
itself. But his intellect was constitutionally disposed to see the
objections to all things rather than the arguments in their favour, and
to take a pleasure in stating these objections. Thus, though he was
after his religious oscillations nominally an orthodox Protestant, the
tendency of his works was to impugn points held by Protestants and
Catholics alike, and though he was nominally a Cartesian, he was equally
far from yielding an implicit belief to the doctrines of Descartes. His
most famous work is the reverse of methodical. The subjects are chosen
almost at random, and are very frequently nothing but pegs on which to
hang notes and digressions in which the author indulges his critical and
dissolvent faculty. Nor is the style by any means a model. But it is
lively, clear, and interesting, and no doubt had a good deal to do with
the vast popularity of his book in the eighteenth century. Bayle had a
strong influence on Voltaire, and though he had less to do with his
follower's style than Saint Evremond and Pascal, he is nearer to him in
spirit than either. The difference perhaps may be said to be that
Bayle's pleasure in negative criticism is almost purely intellectual.
There is but little in him of the half-childish mischievousness which
distinguishes Voltaire.

[Sidenote: Malebranche.]

Cartesianism was not less likely than its opposites to lead to
philosophical scepticism, but in the main its professors, taking their
master's conduct for model, remained orthodox. In that case, however,
the Cartesian idealism had a tendency to pass into mysticism. Of those
in whom it took this form Nicolas Malebranche[278] was the unquestioned
chief. He was born at Paris, where his father held a lucrative office;
in 1638, and from his birth had very feeble health. When he was of age
he became an Oratorian, and passed the whole of his long life in study
and literary work, sometimes being engaged in controversies on the
compatibility of his system--the famous 'Vision in God,' and 'Spiritual
Existence in God'--with orthodoxy, but never receiving any formal
censure from the Church. Despite his bad health he lived to the age of
seventy-seven, dying in 1715. A curious story is told of a verbal
argument between him and Berkeley on the eve of his death. He wrote
several works in French, such as a _Traité de Morale_, _Conversations
Métaphysiques_, etc., but his greatest and most remarkable contribution
to French literature is his _Recherche de la Vérité_, published in 1674,
which unfolds his system. From the literary point of view the
_Recherche_ is one of the most considerable books of the philosophical
class ever produced. Unlike the various works of Descartes it is of very
great length, filling three volumes in the original edition, and a
thousand pages of close type in the most handy modern reprint. It also
deals with subjects of an exceedingly abstract character, and is not
diversified by any elaborate illustrations, any machinery like that of
Plato or Berkeley, or any passages of set eloquence. The purity and
beauty of the style, however, and its extraordinary lucidity, make it a
book of which it is difficult to tire. The chief mechanical difference
between the style of Malebranche and that of his master is that his
sentences are shorter. They are, however, framed with equal care as to
rhythm and to logical arrangement. The metaphor of limpidity is very
frequently applied to style, but perhaps there is hardly any to which it
may be applied with such propriety as to the style of Malebranche.


[272] Not fully edited yet. Cousin's edition is the fullest, but the
important French works figure in many popular collections and are easily

[273] He was 'as restless as a hyæna,' says De Quincey, not unjustly.

[274] Professor Mahaffy, _Descartes_. Blackwood, 1880.

[275] 'La philosophie donne moyen de parler vraisemblablement de toutes
choses, et se faire admirer des moins savants.'

[276] Sainte-Beuve, _Port Royal_. 6 vols. Paris, 1859-61.

[277] These men, such as Saint Ibal, Bardouville, Desbarreaux, and
others, figure largely in the anecdotic history of the time. In the
persons of Théophile and Saint Evremond they touch on literature: but
for the most part they were chiefly distinguished by revolting
coarseness and blasphemy of expression, and by a childish delight in
outraging religious sentiment, which was often changed into abject
terror or hypocritical compliance as death approached. They were
commonly called _philosophes_, a degradation of the word which was not
much mended in the next century, though it then acquired a more strictly
literary meaning.

[278] Ed. Simon. 1854.



There is no period in the whole course of French literature in which
theological writers and orators contribute so much to literary history
as in the seventeenth century. The causes of this energy can only be
summarily indicated here. They were the various _sequelae_ of the
Reformation and the counter-reformation, the latter of which was in
France extraordinarily powerful; the influence of Richelieu and Mazarin
in politics, which assured to the Church a great predominance in the
State, while its rival, the territorial aristocracy, was depressed and
persecuted; the personal inclination of Louis XIV., who made up for his
loose manner of life by the straitest doctrinal orthodoxy; but perhaps
most of all the accidental determination of various men of great talents
and energy to the ecclesiastical profession. Bossuet, Fénelon,
Bourdaloue, Massillon, Fléchier, Mascaron, Claude, Saurin, to name no
others, could hardly have failed to distinguish themselves in any
department of literature which they had chosen. Circumstances of
accident threw them into work more or less wholly theological.

[Sidenote: St. François de Sales.]

This peculiarity of the century, however, belongs chiefly to its third
and fourth quarters. The first preacher and theologian of literary
eminence in this period belongs about equally to it and to the
preceding, but his most remarkable work dates from this time. François
de Sales was born at Annecy in 1567. He was destined for the law, and
completed his education for it at Paris, but his vocation for the church
was stronger, and he took orders in 1593. He soon distinguished himself
by reconverting a considerable number of persons to the Roman form of
faith in the district of Chablais, and at the beginning of the
seventeenth century preached at Paris, and latterly at Dijon. He was
soon made bishop of Geneva, an episcopate which, it need hardly be said,
might almost be described as _in partibus infidelium_. But in the south
of France, in Savoy, and in Paris itself, his influence was great. His
chief works are the 'Introduction to a Devout Life' (1608), the _Traité
de l'Amour de Dieu_, 'Spiritual Letters' (to Madame de Chantal), and
sermons. His style is by no means destitute of archaism, but it is
clear, fluent, and agreeable. He and Fenouillet, bishop of Marseilles,
with other preachers whose names are now forgotten, were the chief
instruments in recovering the art of sacred oratory from the low estate
into which it had fallen during the heat of the religious wars and the
League, when it had been disgraced alternately by violence and
buffoonery. But the Thirty Years' War and the Fronde were again
unfavourable to theological discussion, except of a quasi-political
kind, and the best spirits of this time threw themselves into the
unpopular direction of Jansenism. The 'Siècle de Louis Quatorze' proper,
that is the period subsequent to 1660, was the palmy time, from the
literary point of view, of theological eloquence and discussion in

[Sidenote: Bossuet.]

Of the authors already named Bossuet deserves precedence in almost every
respect except that of private character. Jacques Benigne Bossuet[279]
was born at Dijon, in 1627, of a family of distinction in the middle
class. He went to school to the Jesuits in his native town, and finished
his education at the Collège de Navarre in Paris, receiving his doctor's
degree and a canonry at Metz in 1652. He soon distinguished himself both
as an orator and a controversialist, preached before the king in Advent
1661, and in 1669 was appointed to the bishopric of Condom. His
subsequent appointment to the post of tutor to the Dauphin made him
resign his bishopric; but on the completion of his task (in virtue of
which he had been elected to the Academy in 1680) he was made almoner to
the prince, and in the following year received the bishopric of Meaux.
He was soon after engaged in the Gallican controversy, in which he
defended not so much the rights of the Church as the claims of the royal
prerogative. The most unfortunate incident of his life was his
controversy with Fénelon. Bossuet, though thoroughly learned in some
respects, was not a man of the widest culture, and the whole region of
mystical theology was unknown to him. He, therefore, mistook certain
utterances of the archbishop of Cambray, which were neither new nor
alarming, for heterodox innovations, and began a violent polemic against
him. Supported by the king, he was able to obtain a nominal victory, but
the moral success rested with Fénelon, and still more the advantage in
the literary duel. Bossuet died in 1704. His works were very numerous,
and of very various kinds. His first reputation was, as has been said,
earned as a controversialist (his principal adversaries in this respect
were the Protestant ministers Ferri and Claude) and as a preacher on
general subjects. On his appointment to the see of Condom, however, he
struck out a new line, that of funeral discourses (_oraisons funèbres_),
and produced, on the occasions of the death of the two Henriettas of
England, mother and daughter, of the great Condé, of the
Princess-Palatine, and of others, works which are undoubtedly triumphs
of French eloquence, and which, with the exception of the best passages
of Burke, are perhaps the only things of the kind comparable to the
masterpieces of antiquity. His controversial work is equal in perfection
of execution to his oratory, the _Exposition de la Doctrine de l'Église
Catholique_, and still more the _Histoire des Variations des Églises
Protestantes_, being deservedly regarded as models of their kind,
notwithstanding the obvious fallacy pervading the latter. Of his other
works the most remarkable (perhaps the most remarkable of all if
originality of conception and breadth of design be taken into account)
is his _Discours sur l'Histoire Universelle jusqu'à l'Empire de
Charlemagne_. This has, though not universally, been held to be the
first attempt at the philosophy of history, that is to say, the first
work in which general history is regarded and expounded from a single
comprehensive point of view, and laws of a universal kind drawn from it.
In Bossuet's case the point of view is, of course, strictly theological,
and the laws are arranged accordingly.

Bossuet's character was unamiable, and, despite the affected frankness
with which he spoke to the king, it will always remain a blot on his
memory that he did not seriously protest either against the loose life
of Louis, or against his ruinous ambition and lawless disregard of the
rights of nations. There is, however, no doubt whatever of his perfect
sincerity and of the genuineness of his belief in political autocracy,
provided that the autocrat was a faithful son of the Church. He was a
Cartesian, and was probably not unindebted to Descartes for the force
and vigour of his reasonings, though he was hardly so careful as his
master in enlarging the field of his knowledge and assuring the validity
of his premises. The extraordinary majesty of his rhetoric, perhaps,
brings out by force of contrast the occasionally fallacious character of
his reasoning, but it must be confessed that even as a controversialist
he has few equals. The rhetorical excellence of the _Oraisons_ and the
gorgeous sweep, not merely of the language but of the conception, in the
_Histoire Universelle_, show him at what is really his best; while many
isolated expressions betray at once an intimate knowledge of the human
heart, and a hardly surpassed faculty of clothing that knowledge in
words. Bossuet no doubt is more of a speaker than a writer. His
excellence lies in the wonderful survey, and grasp of the subject
(qualities which make his favourite literary nickname of the 'Eagle of
Meaux' more than usually appropriate), in the contagious enthusiasm and
energy with which he attacks his point, in his inexhaustible metaphors
and comparisons. He has not the unfailing charm of Malebranche, nor that
which belongs in a less degree, and with more mannerism, to Fénelon; he
is very unequal, and small blemishes of style abound in him. Thus, in
his most famous passage, the description of the sudden death of
Henrietta of Orleans, occurs the phrase 'comme un coup de _tonnerre_
cette _étonnante_ nouvelle,' a jingle of words as unpleasant as it is
easily avoided. But blemishes of this kind (and it is, perhaps,
noteworthy that French is more tolerant of them than almost any other
language of equal literary perfection) disappear in the volume and force
of the torrent of Bossuet's eloquence. It is fair to add that, though he
is almost always aiming at the sublime, he scarcely ever oversteps it,
or falls into the bombastic and the ridiculous. Even his elaborate
eulogy (it would hardly be fair to call it flattery) of the great is so
cunningly balanced by exposition of the nothingness of men and things,
that it does not strike the mind's eye with any immediate sense of
glaring impropriety. The lack of formal perfection which is sometimes
noticeable in him is made up to a greater degree almost than in any
other writer by the intense force and conviction of the speaker and the
imposing majesty of his manner. It is pretty certain that most attempts
to imitate Bossuet would result in a lamentable failure; and it is not a
little significant that the only two Frenchmen who in prose have shown
themselves occasionally his rivals, Michelet and Lamennais, are among
the most unequal of writers.

[Sidenote: Fénelon.]

The contrast between Bossuet and his chief rival was in all respects
great. To begin with, Fénelon was a much younger man than Bossuet,
belonging it might be said almost to another generation. He inherited
some of the noblest blood in France, while Bossuet was but a _roturier_,
and this may have had something to do with the more independent
character of Fénelon. Bossuet was a vigorous student of certain defined
branches of knowledge, but of general literature he took little heed.
Fénelon was a man of almost universal reading, and one of the most
original and soundest literary critics of his time. Fénelon felt deeply
for the misery of the French people; Bossuet does not appear to have
troubled himself about it. Finally Bossuet, with all his merits, had
grave faults of moral character, while to Fénelon--quite as justly as to
Berkeley--every virtue under heaven may be assigned. François de
Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon[280] was born at the castle of the same
name in the province of Perigord, on August 16th, 1661. He was educated
first at home, then at Cahors, and then at the Collége de Plessis at
Paris. He finally studied in a theological seminary for some years, and
did not formally enter the Church till he was four-and-twenty. He then
devoted himself partly to the poor, partly to education, especially of
girls, and his treatise on this latter subject was his first work. In
1687 he was appointed preceptor to the Duke de Bourgogne, son of
Bossuet's pupil, and heir to the throne. For the duke he wrote a great
number of books, among them _Télémaque_ (or at least the first sketch of
it). In 1697 he was appointed archbishop of Cambray. Into his connection
with Madame Guyon, the celebrated apostle of quietism, and his
consequent quarrel with Bossuet, there is no need to enter further.
Whichever of the two may have been theologically in the right, there are
no two opinions on the question that Bossuet was in the wrong, both in
the acrimony of his conduct and the violence of his language. In the
latter respect, indeed, he brought down upon himself a well-deserved
punishment. Fénelon was the mildest of men, but he possessed a faculty
of quiet irony inferior to that of no man then living, and he used it
with effect in the controversy against Bossuet's declamatory
denunciations. When, at last, the matter had been referred to the Pope,
and judgment had been given against himself, Fénelon at once bowed to
the decision and acknowledged his error. Louis, however, had many more
reasons for disliking him than the mere odium theologicum with which
Bossuet had inspired him. Fénelon was known to disapprove of much in the
actual government of France, and the surreptitious publication of
_Télémaque_ completed his disgrace. He was banished from court and
confined to his diocese, in which he accordingly spent the last part of
his life, doing his best to alleviate the misery caused on the borders
by the war of the Spanish succession, and dying at Cambray in 1715.

Fénelon was an industrious writer. Few of his finished sermons have been
preserved; but these are excellent, as are also his fables written for
the Duke de Bourgogne, his already-mentioned _Education des Filles_, and
his _Dialogues des Morts_, also written for the Duke, in which the form
is borrowed from Lucian, but in which moral lessons are substituted for
mere satire. Like Bossuet, Fénelon was a Cartesian, and his _Traité de
l'Existence de Dieu_ is a philosophico-religious work of no small merit.
In literary history he is remarkable for having directly opposed the
victorious work of Boileau. He has left several exercises in literary
criticism, such as his _Lettre sur les Occupations de l'Académie
Française_, one of the latest of his works; his _Dialogues sur
l'Eloquence_, and a contribution to the famous dispute of ancients and
moderns in correspondence with La Motte. He regretted the impoverishment
of the language, and the loss of much of the energy and picturesque
vigour of the sixteenth century. In his controversy with Bossuet, though
the matter is not strictly literary, there is, as has been noticed, much
admirable literary work; but his chief claim to a place in literary
history is, of course, _Télémaque_, which work he had anticipated by the
somewhat similar _Aventures d'Aristonous_. It has often been regretted
that classics in any language should be used for purposes of instruction
in the rudiments, and hardly any single work has suffered more from this
practice than _Télémaque_, for learners of French are usually set to
read it long before they have any power of literary appreciation. A
continuous narrative, moreover, is about the least suited of all
literary forms to bear that process of cutting up in short pieces which
is necessary in education. The pleasure of the story is either lost
altogether, or anticipated by surreptitious reading on the part of the
pupil, after which the mechanical plodding through matter of which he
has already exhausted the interest is disgusting enough. Yet it can
hardly be doubted that if _Télémaque_ had not, in the case of most
readers, this fatal disadvantage, its beauties would be generally
acknowledged. Its form is somewhat artificial, and the author has,
perhaps, not escaped the error of most moral fiction writers, that of
making his hero too much of a model of what ought to be, and too little
of a copy of what is. But the story is excellently managed, the various
incidents are drawn with remarkable vividness and picturesqueness, the
descriptions are uniformly excellent, and the style is almost
impeccable. Even were the moral sentiments and the general tendency of
the book less excellent than they are, its value as a model of French
composition would probably have secured it something like its present
place side by side with La Fontaine's Fables as a school-book. It is
fair to add that in the character of Calypso, where the need of the
author for a 'terrible example' freed him from his restraints, very
considerable powers of character-drawing are shown, and the same may be
said of not a few of the minor personages.

[Sidenote: Massillon.]

The third greatest name of the period in this class of men of letters
is beyond all question that of Massillon. He, like Fénelon, belongs to
the second, if not the third, generation of the Siècle de Louis
Quatorze, being nearly forty years younger than Bossuet. He was a long
liver, and his death did not occur till far into the reign of Louis XV.,
when the reputation of Voltaire was established, and the
eighteenth-century movement was in full swing. But his literary and
oratorical activity had ceased for nearly a quarter of a century at the
time of his death. Jean Baptiste Massillon[281] was a native of Hières,
and was born on June 24, 1663. His father was a notary, and he himself
was destined for the same profession; but his vocation for the Church
was strong, and he was at last permitted to enter the Oratorian
Congregation. His aptitude for preaching was soon discovered, and when
very young he distinguished himself by _Oraisons Funèbres_ on the
archbishops of Lyons and Vienne. He was of a retiring disposition, and,
wishing to avoid publicity, joined a stricter order than that of the
Oratory, but was induced, and indeed ordered, by the Cardinal de
Noailles, who heard him preach in his new abode, not to hide his light
under a bushel, but to come to Paris and do the Church service. He
obeyed, and was established in the capital in 1696. His fame soon became
great, and he preached before the king more than one course of sermons.
He was appointed bishop of Clermont in 1717, and in the same year
preached the celebrated _Petit Caréme_, or course of Lent sermons,
before Louis XV. In 1719 he was elected of the Academy. He preached his
last sermon at Paris in 1723, and then retired to his diocese, where he
spent the last twenty years of his life, dying of apoplexy at the age of
eighty, Sept. 28, 1742.

Massillon has usually, and justly, been considered the greatest
preacher, in the strict sense of the word, of France. Only Bossuet and
Bourdaloue could contest this position; and though both preceded him,
and he owed much to both, he excels both in sermons properly so called.
Bossuet was, perhaps, a greater orator, if the finest parts of his work
only are taken; but he was, as has been said, unequal, and in the two
great objects of the preacher, exposition of doctrine and effect upon
the consciences of his hearers, he was admittedly inferior to Massillon.
The latter, moreover, has, of all French preachers (for Fénelon, it must
be remembered, has left but few sermons), the purest style, and
possesses the greatest range. His special function was considered to be
persuasion; yet few pulpit orators have managed the sterner parts of
their duty more forcibly. Massillon's sermon on the Prodigal Son, and
that on the Deaths of the Just and the Unjust, are models of his style.
It is, moreover, very much to his credit that he was the most
uncompromising, despite his gentleness, of all the great preachers of
the time, and, therefore, the least popular at court. Louis the
Fourteenth's famous epigram, to the effect that other preachers made him
contented with them, but Massillon made him discontented with himself,
was somewhat comically illustrated by the fact that, after the second
course of sermons preached before him, that of Lent 1704, the preacher,
though then in the very height of his powers, was never asked again to
preach at court. We are, however, more concerned with the manner than
with the matter of his orations. He had (after the example of
Bourdaloue, it is true) entirely discarded the frippery of erudition
with which most of his predecessors had been wont to load their sermons,
as well as the occasional oddities of gesticulation and anecdote which
had once been fashionable. His style is simple, straightforward, and yet
extremely elegant. In the commonplaces of French literary history of the
old school he is called the Racine of the pulpit, a compliment
determined by the extreme purity and elegance of his style, but not
otherwise very applicable, inasmuch as one chief characteristic of
Massillon is an energy and masculine vigour of expression in which
Racine is, for the most part, wanting.

[Sidenote: Bourdaloue.]

If we have postponed Bourdaloue to Massillon, despite the order of
chronology, it has been in accordance with Bourdaloue's own remark when
Massillon made his first reputation, 'He must increase, but I must
decrease.' This remark is characteristic of the disposition of the man,
which was as stainless as Massillon's own. Louis Bourdaloue was born at
Bourges on the 20th August, 1632, and was thus not many years the junior
of Bossuet. He entered the Society of Jesus early, and served it as
professor of philosophy and kindred subjects. But his superiors soon
discovered his talents as a preacher, and he was sent to make his way
before the court, where he became a great favourite, especially with
Madame de Sévigné, who was no mean critic. He died in 1704.

The chief characteristic of Bourdaloue's eloquence is a remarkable
absence of ornament, and a strict adherence to dialectical order. None
of the great French preachers admit of logical abstraction and _précis_
so well as he. Another peculiarity is his preference for ethical
subjects. More than any of his contemporaries he was an expounder of
Christian morality, and his sermons are wont to deal with simple virtues
and vices rather than with points of devotional piety. He was, like
Massillon, and even more than Massillon, absolutely fearless and
uncompromising, preaching against adultery in the very face of Louis
XIV. in his early days, and sparing no vice or folly of the court. But,
perhaps owing to the somewhat severe and exclusively intellectual
character of his oratory, it does not appear to have produced the
effects, salutary doubtless for the hearers, but somewhat inconvenient
for the preacher, which attended the more cunningly-aimed attacks of

The example of the three great preachers--Bossuet, Bourdaloue, and
Massillon--raised up many imitators, some of whom, such as De la Rue,
Cheminais, and others, were popular in their day. There are, however,
four orators--two Roman Catholics, and two belonging to the French
Protestant Church--to whom is usually and rightly accorded the second
rank, while sectarian partiality sometimes claims even the first for
them. These were Fléchier, Mascaron, Claude, and Saurin.

[Sidenote: Minor Preachers.]

Esprit Fléchier was born at Pesmes in 1632. For a time he was a member
of the congregation of the Brothers of Christian Doctrine, which,
however, on an alteration of its constitution by a new superior-general
(he had been introduced to it by his uncle, who held that office), he
quitted. He then went to Paris and tried various methods of gaining a
livelihood, such as writing verses in Latin and French, and teaching in
a school. In these early days he indulged in various forms of
miscellaneous literature. The most curious and interesting of these
works is a little account of the _Grands Jours d'Auvergne_, a sort of
provincial assize which he visited. This has much liveliness, and the
sketches of character and manners show a good deal of skill. But at
length he found his proper sphere in the pulpit. He acquired reputation
by his _Oraison Funèbre_ on Turenne. He became a member of the Academy
(being admitted on the same day as Racine); and he was appointed, first,
to the bishopric of Lavaur, then to that of Nîmes, where, in a very
difficult position (for the revocation of the edict of Nantes had
exasperated the Protestants, who were numerous in the diocese), he made
himself universally beloved. He died in 1710. The most famous of
Fléchier's discourses are those on Madame de Montausier (the heroine of
the _Guirlande de Julie_[282] and the idol of the Hôtel de Rambouillet),
that on Madame de Montausier's husband, and that on Turenne. Fléchier
represents a somewhat older style of diction and expression than either
of his great contemporaries, Bossuet and Bourdaloue; and his style,
unlike some other work of this older school, is not characterised by
many striking occasional phrases, but his sermons as a whole are
vigorous and well expressed.

Jean Mascaron was born at Marseilles in 1634. It is worth noticing that
almost all these orators came from the south of France. He preached
frequently before the king, and did not hesitate to rebuke his vices,
notwithstanding or because of which he was appointed to the bishopric of
Tulle, whence he was afterwards translated to Agen. He died in 1703.
Mascaron is chiefly remembered for his _Oraison_ on that same death of
Turenne which gave occasion to so many orators. He is usually reproached
with a certain affectation of style, and there is justice in the

Of the two Protestant divines who have been mentioned Claude was the
less distinguished, though he sustained on pretty even terms a public
controversy with Bossuet himself. Jacques Saurin was of less political
influence with his own sect, but he possessed greater eloquence, and
critics of his own persuasion in France and Switzerland have equalled
him to Bossuet. His works, moreover, long continued to be the most
popular body of household divinity with French Protestants. He was born
at Nîmes, 1677, and was thus considerably younger even than Massillon.
The revocation of the edict of Nantes (which had formed the subject of
some of Claude's most famous discourses) prevented him from making a
name for himself in France. He was at first appointed, in 1701, after
studying at Geneva, to a Walloon congregation in London, but soon moved,
in consequence of weak health, to the Hague. He there became a victim of
the petty dissensions which seem to have been more frequent among Dutch
Protestant sects than anywhere else, and to the vexation of these is
said to have been partly due his comparatively early death in 1730. He
left a very considerable number of sermons and some theological
treatises. He was admittedly a great orator, excelling in striking
pictures and forcible imagery.

It will have been observed that, though this age contributes more to
theology of the literary kind than almost any other, its most memorable
contributions are almost exclusively oratorical. Incidentally, however,
much that was intended to be read, not heard, was of course written. But
less of it has been thought worthy the attention of posterity. The chief
theological names in this department have already been named in naming
those of the other. Of the school of Port Royal, who preached little but
wrote much, J. J. Duguet, a man of great talent and saintly life,
deserves mention.


[279] Bossuet's works are extremely voluminous. The most important of
them are easily obtainable in the _Collection Didot_ and similar

[280] There is a fairly representative edition of Fénelon in five vols.
large 8vo. Didot. Separate works are easily accessible.

[281] Edition as in Fénelon's case. Selections of all the orthodox
sermon-writers are abundant.

[282] This was an album to which the poets of the day, from Corneille
downwards, contributed verses, each on a different flower.



The tendencies of the period which has been surveyed in the foregoing
book must be sufficiently obvious from the survey itself. They had been,
as far as the unsatisfactory result of them went, indicated with
remarkably prophetic precision by Regnier in lines quoted above[283].
The work, not merely of Malherbe, which the satirist had directly in
view, but of Boileau, who succeeded Malherbe and completed his task, had
tended far too much in the direction of substituting a formal regularity
for an elastic freedom and of discouraging the more poetical utterances
of thought. In prose, however, the operation of not dissimilar
tendencies had been almost wholly good. For it is in the nature of prose
not to admit of too absolute regulation, and it is at the same time in
its nature to require that regulation up to a certain point. If the
French vocabulary had been somewhat impoverished, it had been
considerably refined. All good authorities admit that the influence of
the salon-coteries and the _précieuses_--mischievous as it was in some
ways--was of no small benefit in purifying not merely manners but
speech. A single book, the _Historiettes_ of Tallemant des Réaux, shows
sufficiently the need of this double purification. French literature has
at no time been distinguished by prudery, but from the fifteenth to the
middle of the seventeenth century (for, as has been pointed out, the
courtly literature at least of the middle ages is free from this defect)
it had added to its liberty in choice and treatment of subjects a
liberty which amounted to the extremest licence in the choice of words.
It had become in fact exceedingly coarse. The poetry of the Pléiade was
not as a rule open to this charge, but the early poetry and prose of the
seventeenth century must submit to it. One effect of the process of
correction and reform was a decided improvement in this matter.

But the vocabulary was by no means the only thing that underwent
revision. Other constituents of literature shared in the same
experience, and much more beneficially, for the expurgation of the
dictionary was unfortunately made to involve the weeding out of many
terms which were not open to the slightest exception, and the loss of
which deprived the tongue of much of its picturesqueness. No such
concomitant defect attended the reformations in grammar which, begun by
the grammarians of the sixteenth century, were pursued still more
systematically by Vaugelas and his followers. There can hardly be too
much precision observed in matters of accidence and syntax; while it is
desirable that the vocabulary should be as rich as possible, provided
that its terms are vernacular or properly naturalised. The same may be
said of some at least of the reforms of Malherbe in prosody and the
minutiæ of poetical art. So too the advance made to something like a
uniform orthography was of no small importance. The result of this
general criticism was the group (or rather groups, for they may be
divided into at least two, the earlier comprising Descartes, Corneille,
Pascal, Saint Evremond, La Rochefoucauld, Bossuet, Madame de Sévigné, La
Fontaine, and Molière, in other words, most of the greatest names)
illustrating the so-called _Grand Siècle_, or Siècle de Louis Quatorze.
The two names that stand first in this list, Descartes and Corneille,
represent at once the initial change and in addition the greatest
accomplishment in the direction of change effected by any individual.
The others worthily followed where they led. This group, as has been
more than once pointed out, does not shine in poetry proper. But it has
hardly a rival in prose and in that measured and declamatory or easy and
pedestrian verse which is half prose, half poetry.

Long, however, before the century ended, the evils which invariably
attend upon a critical period, especially--it is paradoxical but
true--when it is at the same time a period of considerable creative
power, began to manifest themselves. These evils may be briefly
described as the natural results of the drawing up of too straight and
definite rules for each department of literature, and the following with
too great exactness of the more brilliant examples in each kind. The one
practice leads to what is called, in Sterne's well-known phrase,
'looking at the stop-watch;' the other, to an endeavour to be like
somebody. It was not till the eighteenth century that these evils were
fully patent; and then, though they were somewhat mitigated in
departments other than the Belles Lettres by the eager spirit of enquiry
and adventure which characterised the time, they are evident enough. The
mischief showed itself in various ways. Besides the two which have been
already indicated, there was a third and subtler form, which has
produced some curious and interesting work, but which is obviously an
indication of decadence. Those who did not resign themselves to the mere
recasting of old material in the old moulds, or to simple following of
the great models, were apt to echo, aloud or silently, La Bruyère's
opening sentence, 'tout est dit,' and to draw from this discouraging
fact the same conclusion that he did--that the only way to innovate was
to vary in cunning fashion the manners of saying. In itself there might
be no great harm in the conclusion, especially if it had led to a revolt
against the narrow limits imposed by current criticism. But it did not,
it only led to an attempt to innovate within those limits, which could
only be done by a kind of new 'preciousness'--an affectation in short.
This affectation showed itself first (though La Bruyère himself is not
quite free from it, enemy of Fontenelle as he was) in Fontenelle, who
was a descendant of the old _précieuse_ school itself, and reached a
climax in the author from whose name it thenceforward took its name of

Thus the literary produce of the seventeenth century was better than its
tendency. The latter has been sufficiently described; a very few words
will suffice for the former. In the special characteristics of the
genius of French, which may be said to be clearness, polish of form and
expression, and a certain quality which perhaps cannot be so well
expressed by any other word as by alertness, the best work of the
seventeenth century has no rivals. Except in Corneille and Bossuet, it
is not often grand, it is still seldomer passionate, or suggestively
harmonious, or quaintly humorous, or even picturesquely narrative. But
the charm of precision, of elegance, of expressing what is expressed in
the best possible manner, belongs to it in a supreme degree. There are
not many things in literature more absolutely incapable of improvement
in their own style, and as far as they go, than a scene of Molière, a
_tirade_ of Racine, a maxim of La Rochefoucauld, a letter of Madame de
Sévigné, a character of La Bruyère, a peroration of Massillon, when each
is at his or her best. The reader may in some cases feel that he likes
something else better, but he is incapable of pointing out a blemish. If
he objects, he must object to something extra-literary, to the writer's
conception of human nature, his political views, his range of thought,
his selection of subject. When the one supreme question of criticism
formulated by Victor Hugo, 'l'ouvrage est-il bon ou est-il mauvais?'
(not 'aimez-vous l'ouvrage?' which is the illegitimate question which
nine critics out of ten put to themselves), is set in reference to the
best work of this time, the answer cannot be dubious for one moment in
the case of any one qualified to give an answer at all. It is good, and
in very many cases it could not possibly be better.


[283] p. 267.





[Sidenote: Literary Degeneracy of the Eighteenth Century.]

The literature of the eighteenth century, despite the many great names
which adorn it, and the extraordinary practical influence which it
exercised, is, from the point of view of strict literary criticism,
which busies itself with form rather than matter, a period of decadence.
In all the departments of Belles Lettres a servile imitation of the
models of the great classical period is observable. The language,
according to an inevitable process which the more clearsighted of the
men of Louis the Fourteenth's time, such as Fénelon and La Bruyère,
themselves foresaw and deprecated, became more and more incapable of
expressing deep passion, varied scenery, the intricacies and
eccentricities of character. For a time a few survivors of the older
class and manner, such as Fontenelle, Saint Simon, Massillon, resisted
the tendency of the age more or less successfully. As they one by one
dropped off, the militant energy of the great _philosophe_ movement,
which may be said to coincide with the second and third quarters of the
century, communicated a temporary brilliance to prose. But during the
reign of Louis XVI., the Revolution and the Empire (for in the widest
sense the eighteenth century of literature does not cease till the
Restoration, or even later), the average literary value of what is
written in French is but small, and, with few exceptions, what is
valuable belongs to those who, consciously or unconsciously, were in an
attitude of revolt, and were clearing the way for the men of 1830.

[Sidenote: especially manifest in Poetry.]

Poetry and the drama naturally suffered most from this course of events,
and poetry pure and simple suffered even more than the drama. By the
opening of the eighteenth century epic and lyric in the proper sense had
been rendered nearly impossible by the full and apparently final
adoption of the conception of poetry recommended by Malherbe, and
finally rendered orthodox by Boileau. The impossibility was not
recognised, and France, in the opinion of her own critics, at last got
her epic poem in the _Henriade_, and her perfect lyrists in Rousseau and
Lebrun. But posterity has not ratified these judgments. Fortunately,
however, the men of the eighteenth century had in La Fontaine a model
for lighter work which their principles permitted them to follow, and
the irresistible attractions of the song left song-writers tolerably
free from the fatal restrictions of dignified poetry. Once, towards the
close of the century, a poet of exceptional genius, André Chénier,
showed what he might have done under happier circumstances. But for the
most part the history of poetry during this time in France is the
history of verse almost uninspired by the poetic spirit, and destitute
even of the choicer graces of poetic form.

[Sidenote: J. B. Rousseau.]

For convenience' sake it will be well to separate the graver and the
lighter poets, and to treat each in order, with the proviso that in most
cases those mentioned in the first division have some claim to figure in
the second also, for few poets of the time were wholly serious. The
first poet who is distinctively of the eighteenth century, and not the
least remarkable, was Jean Baptiste Rousseau[284] (1669-1741).
Rousseau's life was a singular and rather an unfortunate one. In the
first place he was exiled for a piece of scandalous literature, of which
in all probability he was quite guiltless; and, in the second, meeting
in his exile with Voltaire, who professed (and seems really to have
felt) admiration for him, he offended the irritable disciple and was
long the butt of his attacks. Here, however, Rousseau concerns us as a
direct pupil of Boileau, who, with great faculties for the formal part
of poetry, and not without some tincture of its spirit, set himself to
be a lyric poet after Boileau's fashion. He tried play-writing also, but
his dramas are quite unimportant. Rousseau's principal works are certain
odes, most of which are either panegyrical after the fashion of the
celebrated Namur specimen (though he is seldom so absurd as his master),
or else sacred and drawn from the Bible. The _Cantates_ are of the same
kind as the latter. These elaborate and formal works, which owed much of
their popularity to the vogue given to piety at court in the later years
of Louis XVI., are curiously contrasted with the third principal
division of his poems, consisting of epigrams which allow themselves the
full epigrammatic licence in subject and treatment. The contrast is,
however, probably due to a very simple cause, the state of demand at the
time, and perhaps also to the study of Marot, the only pre-seventeenth
century poet of France who was allowed to pass muster in the school of
Boileau. Rousseau's merits have been already indicated, and his defects
may be easily divined, even from this brief notice. He is almost always
adroit, often eloquent, sometimes remarkably clever; but he is seldom
other than artificial, never passionate, and only once or twice sublime.
Nor is it superfluous to mention that he is more responsible than any
other person for the intolerable frippery of classical mythology which
loads eighteenth-century verse.

La Motte-Houdart (1672-1731), a successful dramatist, an excellent
prose-writer, and an ingenious but paradoxical critic, was at the time
considered Rousseau's rival in point of ode-making. His work displays
the same defects in a greater and the same merits in a lesser degree,
but his fables in the style of La Fontaine are not unhappy.
Lagrange-Chancel, a partisan of the Duchess du Maine, is chiefly famous
for his ferocious satires on the Duke of Orleans. Louis Racine
(1692--1763), undeterred by his father's reputation and the dissuasion
of the redoubtable Boileau, attempted poetry of a serious kind. He was
brought up by the Jansenists, and his two chief works are poems on
'Grace' and 'Religion.' The latter is better than the former; but both
exhibit a considerable faculty in the style of verse which his father
had made fashionable. The 'Sacred Odes' of Louis Racine are, like most
French poetry of the kind, stiff with a double mannerism, literary and

[Sidenote: Voltaire.]

It would not be easy to give a clearer idea of the strange conception of
poetry which prevailed in France at this time than is given in the
simple statement that Voltaire was acknowledged to be its greatest poet.
It is probable that few Englishmen think of Voltaire as a poet at all;
and he has indeed no claim to the title except such as may be derived
from his remarkable skill in the mechanism of the art of poetry, and
from the extraordinary felicity of his light occasional pieces. It is,
however, as a poet that he was chiefly regarded by his contemporaries;
and though he will figure in almost every one of the chapters of this
book, such brief notice of his life as can alone be attempted in this
volume may best be given here. He was born in Paris in 1694, being the
younger son of a wealthy notary. The Jesuits had charge of his
education, and he very early displayed inclinations towards verse which
were not agreeable to his father. His youth seemed destined to scrapes.
He became identified with the party hostile to the Regent, and was twice
imprisoned in the Bastile (the second time in consequence of no fault of
his own), while he was at least twice bastinadoed by personal enemies.
Being sent in the suite of an ambassador to Holland, he became entangled
in a foolish love affair, and had to be hastily recalled. But by degrees
his literary talent developed itself. His first visit to the Bastile is
identified, more or less correctly, with the composition of _Oedipe_,
his second with that of the _Henriade_. After his second release he had
to go to England, and there the poem was published. He was soon enabled
to return to France, and from that time forward was careful to keep
himself out of difficulties by residing first with his friend, Madame du
Châtelet, at the remote frontier château of Circy, then with Frederick
II. at Berlin, then on the neutral territory of Switzerland, or close to
its border, at Les Délices and Ferney. During the whole of his long life
his literary production was incessant, and the form most congenial to
him was poetry, or at least verse. Besides the _Henriade_, his only
poem of great bulk is the scandalous burlesque epic of the _Pucelle_,
nominally imitated from Ariosto, but destitute of the poetical feeling
prominent in the _Orlando_. Voltaire's talent, however, was so much
greater in the lighter kinds of poetry than in the severer, that the
_Pucelle_ is not only more amusing, but actually better as poetry, than
the _Henriade_, the latter being stiff in plan and servilely modelled on
the classical epics, declamatory in tone, tedious in action, and
commonplace in character. Besides these two long poems Voltaire produced
an immense quantity of miscellaneous work, tales in verse, epistles in
verse, discourses in verse, satires, epigrams, _vers de société_ of
every possible kind. These are almost invariably distinguished by the
felicity of expression--spoilt only by too close adherence to the
mannerism of the time--the brilliant wit, the keen observation which are
identified with the name of Voltaire. The number and the small
individual size of these works make it impossible to particularise them
here. But _Le Pauvre Diable_ may be specified as an almost unique
example of easy Horatian satire less conventional than most of its kind;
and the verses to the Princess Ulrique of Prussia as a model of
artificial but exquisitely polished gallantry in verse.

[Sidenote: Descriptive Poets. Delille.]

Le Franc de Pompignan had the misfortune to incur the enmity of
Voltaire, and has consequently borne in France the traditional ignominy
which in England hangs on certain victims of Dryden and Pope. He had,
however, some poetical talent, which was shown principally in his ode on
the death of J. B. Rousseau. The charming poem of _Ver-Vert_ (the
burlesque history of a parrot, the pet of a convent) made, and not
unjustly, the reputation of Gresset. This reputation his other poetical
works--though he wrote a comedy of much merit--failed to sustain. Saint
Lambert, the rival of Voltaire in love if not in literature, imitated
Thomson's _Seasons_ very closely in a poem of the same name, which set
the fashion of descriptive poetry in France for a considerable time. The
three most remarkable of his followers, all considerably superior to
himself in power, were Lemierre, Delille, and Roucher. Some paradoxical
critics have endeavoured to make Lemierre into a great poet; but his
poems (_La Peinture_, _Les Fastes_, etc.), written on ill-selected
subjects and in a style full of conventional mannerism, have at best the
occasional striking lines which are to be found in Armstrong and other
followers of Young or Thomson in England. Jacques Delille and his
extraordinary popularity form, perhaps, the greatest satire on the taste
of the eighteenth century in France. His translation of the Georgics was
supposed to make him the equal of Virgil, and brought him not merely
fame, but solid reward. His principal work was the poem of _Les
Jardins_, which he followed up with others of a not dissimilar kind.
Though he emigrated he did not lose his fame, and to the day of his
death was considered to be the first poet of France, or to share that
honour with Lebrun-_Pindare_. Delille has expiated his popularity by a
full half-century of contempt, and his work is, indeed, valueless as
poetry. But it is interesting as one of the most striking examples of
talent, adjusting itself exactly to the demands made on it. The age of
Delille wished to see everything described in elegant periphrases, and
the periphrases arranged in harmonious verses. Delille did this and
nothing more. Chess is 'le jeu réveur qu'inventa Palamède.' Backgammon
is 'le jeu bruyant où, le cornet en main, L'adroit joueur calcule un
hasard incertain.' Sugar is 'le miel Américain Que du suc des roseaux
exprima l'Africain.' In short, poetry becomes an elaborate conundrum;
nothing is called by its proper name when a circumlocution is in any way
possible. Given the demand, Delille may justly claim the honour of
supplying it with unequalled adroitness. Roucher, the author of _Les
Mois_, who fell a victim to the guillotine, was a member of this school,
possessing not a little vigour, though he was not free from the defects
of his predecessors. To these may, perhaps, be joined the pastoral and
idyllic poet Léonard.

[Sidenote: Lebrun.]

It has been said that the glory of Delille as the greatest poet of the
last quarter of the century was shared by a writer whom his
contemporaries surnamed (absurdly enough) Pindar. Escouchard Lebrun had
a strange resemblance to J. B. Rousseau, of whom, however, he was by no
means a warm admirer. Like his forerunner, he divided his time between
bombastic lyrics and epigrams of very considerable merit. Lebrun was
not destitute of a certain force, but his time was too much for him. He
was a very long-lived man, and in his old age celebrated by turns the
Republic and Bonaparte. His chief rivals as poets of the Republic were
M. J. Chénier and the hunchback Desorgues, a voluminous and vigorous but
crude and unfinished writer, who died in a madhouse at the age of

Two young poets, who lived about the middle of the century, are usually
mentioned together, from the fact of the younger of them having used the
misfortunes of the elder to point his own complaints. Malfilâtre, a
Norman by birth, had the ill-luck to write a piece of verse which gained
a provincial success. He at once set out for Paris to make his fortune.
He obtained the post of secretary to the Count de Lauraguais, wrote
verses not without grace and full of a certain tender melancholy, and
died at the age of thirty, his health broken by privations and
disappointment. Gilbert, a stronger man, but who has been somewhat
honoured by being called the French Chatterton, died still younger,
after writing some vigorous satire, and a 'complaint' or elegy which has
a good deal of pathos. But he did not, as is generally said, die of
want, though he did die in a public hospital, having been carried
thither after a fall from his horse.

[Sidenote: Parny.]

The places accorded by their contemporaries to Delille and Lebrun really
belonged to two writers of very different character and fortune, Parny
and André Chénier. Evariste de Parny, a native of the island of Bourbon,
was called by the aged Voltaire 'mon cher Tibulle,' and displays, with
much of the frivolity and false gallantry of the time, an extraordinary
command of simple elegiac verse, and a manner almost antique in its
simplicity and sweetness. Parny's best piece, a short epitaph on a young
girl, is one of the best things of its kind in literature. His merits,
however, are confined to his early works. In his maturer years he wrote
long poems, on the model of the _Pucelle_, against England,
Christianity, and Monarchism, which are equally remarkable for
blasphemy, obscenity, extravagance, and dulness. His friend Bertin, like
him a creole, resembled him in the command of graceful elegiac and
epistolary verse, but had not what Parny sometimes had, genuine

[Sidenote: Chénier.]

André Marie de Chénier[285], beyond question the greatest poet of the
eighteenth century in France, was born at Constantinople, where his
father was consul-general, in 1762. His mother was a Greek. His family
returned to France when he was a child; he was educated carefully, and
for a short time served in the army, but soon left it. After a time he
was attached (in 1787) to the French embassy in London. Here he spent
four years. Returning to France he sympathised, but on the moderate
side, with the Revolution. The growth of the Jacobin spirit horrified
him, and the excesses of the summer of 1792 decided his attitude and his
fate. He wrote frequently in the _Journal de Paris_, the organ of the
moderate royalist party. Although he did not in any way put himself
forward, he was at last arrested in March, 1794, and was guillotined on
the seventh Thermidor, two days only before the event which would have
saved him, the fall of Robespierre. His poems were not published till
long after his death, and the text of them is even now in an
unsatisfactory condition, many having been left unfinished and
uncorrected by the author. André Chénier is sometimes considered as a
precursor of the Romantic reform, but this is a mistake. His critical
comments on Shakespeare and other writers, his favourite studies, which
were confined to the Greek and Latin classics and the humanists of the
Italian Renaissance, above all his poems themselves, prove the contrary.
A Greek by birthplace, and half a Greek by blood, his tastes and
standards were wholly classical. But the fire and force of his poetical
genius made the blood circulate afresh in the veins of the old French
classical tradition, without, however, permanently strengthening or
renovating it. The poetry of Chénier is still in the main the poetry of
Racine, though with infinitely more glow of colour and variety of
harmony. His poems are mostly antique in their titles and plan,
eclogues, elegies, and so forth, and are not free from a certain
artificiality inseparable from the style. _La Jeune Tarentine_, _La
Jeune Captive_, _L'Aveugle_, and some others, are of extreme merit, and
all over his work (much of which is in the most fragmentary condition)
lines and phrases of extraordinary beauty are scattered. The noble
_Iambes_, or political and satirical poems, which he wrote in prison,
just before his death, bear out, perhaps better than anything else, his
well-known saying, as he touched his head when sentence had been passed,
'et pourtant il y avait quelque chose là.'

[Sidenote: Minor Poets.]

A few other poets or verse-makers of merit before the revival of poetry
proper must be rapidly noticed. The fable of La Fontaine was cultivated
vigorously, in particular by Florian, a favourite pupil of Voltaire, who
will reappear in these pages. Florian's fables are graceful copies of
his master. Those of Arnault, with less grace, have more originality;
often, indeed, Arnault's short moral poems are not so much fables as
what used to be called in English 'emblems.' The most famous of these,
which of itself deserves to keep Arnault's memory green, is 'La
Feuille.' Marie Joseph Chénier, the younger brother of André, and,
unlike him, a fervent republican, is chiefly known as a dramatist. He
had, however, a vein of satirical verse, which was not commonplace.
Another dramatist, Andrieux, also deserves mention in passing. Superior
to either of these as a poet, and wanting only the good-fortune of
having been born a little later, was Nepomucène Lemercier, a playwright
of no small merit, and a poet of extraordinary but unequal vigour. The
_Panhypocrisiade_, a kind of satirical epic _par personnages_ (to use
the old French expression for a dramatic narrative), is his principal
work, and a very remarkable one. Last of all have to be mentioned
Fontanes and Chênedollé, who are the characteristic poets of the Empire,
with the exception of an epic school of no value. The chief importance
of Fontanes in literature is derived not from any performances of his
own, but from the fact that he was the appointed intermediary between
Napoleon and the men of letters of the time, and was able to exercise a
good deal of useful patronage. Chênedollé was in production, if not in
publication, for he published late in life, a precursor of Lamartine,
much of whose style and manner may be found in him. An amiable
appreciation of natural beauty, and a tendency to facile pathos, derived
from the contemplation of natural objects, distinguish him from his

[Sidenote: Light verse. Piron.]

[Sidenote: Désaugiers.]

The vigorous, if not always edifying, work of the song-writers and
authors of _vers de société_ during this century remains to be noticed.
The example of La Fontaine's tales was followed by many writers of more
talent than scruple, but their literary value is not sufficient to
entitle them to a place here. No history of French literature, however,
would be complete without a notice of Piron, the greatest epigrammatist
of France, and one of her keenest and brightest wits. Piron's temper was
an idle one, and he did little solid work in literature, except his
epigrams and one comedy, _La Métromanie_. He wrote many vaudevilles and
operettas, and no one, with the possible exception of Catullus, has ever
excelled him in the art of packing in a few light and graceful lines the
greatest possible quantity of malicious wit. Panard, also a
vaudevillist, is remarkable for the number and excellence of his
drinking songs, and the variety and melody of their rhythm. Collé,
author of amusing but spiteful memoirs, and, like Piron and Panard, a
writer of comic operettas, excelled rather in the political chanson.
Gentil Bernard, the Cardinal de Bernis, the Abbé Boufflers, and Dorat,
were all writers of _vers de société_, the last being much the best.
Their style of writing was frivolous and conventional in the extreme,
but long practice and the vogue which it enjoyed in French society had
brought it to something like the condition of a fine art. Dorat was
surnamed by a contemporary the 'glowworm of Parnassus.' The expression
was not an unhappy one, and may be fairly applied to the other authors
who have been mentioned in his company. He himself was a rather
voluminous author in different styles. The literary baggage of the
others is not heavy. Vadé, a writer of light and trifling verse, who
died comparatively young, devoted himself to composing poems in the
'poissard' dialect of Paris, which are among the best of such things. At
the close of the century, and deserving more particular notice, appeared
Désaugiers, the best light song-writer of France, with the single
exception of Béranger, and preferred to him by some critics. Désaugiers
escaped the revolution by good fortune, had a short but rather
adventurous career of foreign travel, and then settled down to
vaudeville-writing, song-making, and jovial living in Paris. He was a
great frequenter of the Caveau, a kind of irregular club of men of
letters which had been instituted by Piron and his friends, and which
long continued to be a literary and social rendezvous. Désaugiers was
the last of the older class of _Chansonniers_, who relied chiefly on
love and wine for their subjects, and who, if they touched on politics
at all, touched on them merely from the personal and satirical point of
view, with occasional indulgence in cheap patriotism. His songs have
great sweetness and ease, but they contain nothing that can compare with
Béranger in his more serious and pathetic mood[286].

This is a sketch, necessarily and designedly rapid, of the poetical
history of the eighteenth century in France. The matter thus rapidly
treated is of no small interest to professed students of literature; it
abounds in curious social indications; it gives frequent instances of
the extremest ingenuity applied to somewhat unworthy use. But in the
history of the literature as a whole, and to those who have to regard it
not as a collection of curiosities, but as a fruitful field of great and
noble work, it cannot but be of subordinate interest, and as such
requires but cursory treatment here[287].


[284] Editions of almost all authors of any merit from the beginning of
the eighteenth century are common and accessible enough. They will,
therefore, not be specially indicated henceforward unless there is some
special reason for the citation, such as the peculiar elegance or
literary merit of a particular edition, or else the comparative rarity
of the book in any form.

[285] Chénier has been somewhat unfortunate in his editors. The only
complete and accurate edition (though it is far from perfect) is that of
M. Gabriel de Chénier. 3 vols. 1879.

[286] Excellent selections from many of these lighter poets have
recently been put forth under the editorship of M. Octave Uzanne.

[287] Rouget de L'Isle, the author of the famous _Marseillaise_,
deserves mention for that only. He published poems, but their singular
difference from, and inferiority to, his masterpiece were the chief
causes of the scepticism (apparently ill-founded) which has sometimes
been displayed as to his authorship of it.



[Sidenote: Divisions of Drama.]

[Sidenote: La Motte.]

At the beginning, and indeed during the whole course, of the eighteenth
century, the theatre continued to enjoy all the vogue which the
extraordinary brilliancy of the authors of the preceding age had
conferred on it. There were three tolerably distinct kinds of dramatic
work--tragedy, comedy, and opera--the latter either artificial or comic,
and subdividing itself into a great many classes, from the dignified
opera of the Comédie Française and the Comédie Italienne, down to the
vaudevilles and operettas of the so-called 'fair' theatre, _Théâtre de
la Foire_. Towards the middle of the century there grew up a fourth
class, to which the not very appropriate and still less definite name of
_drame_ is applied. This was subdivided, also somewhat arbitrarily, into
_tragédie bourgeoise_ and _comédie larmoyante_. Thus the dramatic author
had considerable liberty of choice except in tragedy proper, where the
model of Racine was enforced on him with pitiless rigour. La Motte, who
was, as has been said, a brilliant writer of prose, endeavoured to break
these bonds, first, by decrying the alleged superiority of the ancients;
secondly, by attacking the theory of the unities; and, lastly, by boldly
denying the necessity of verse in tragedy, and still more the necessity
of rhyme. He was, of course, answered, and the only one of the answers
which has much interest for posterity is that which Voltaire prefixed to
the second edition of _Oedipe_. This is, as always with its author,
lively and ingenious, but ill-informed, destitute of true critical
principles, and entirely inconclusive. La Motte himself wrote a tragedy,
_Inès de Castro_, in which he did not venture to carry out his own
principles, and which had some success. But the justice of his
strictures was best shown by the increasing feebleness of French tragedy
throughout the century. Were it not for the prodigious genius of
Voltaire, not a single tragedy of the age would now have much chance of
being read, still less of being performed; and were it not for that
genius, and the unequal but still remarkable talent of Crébillon the
elder, not a single tragedy of the age would be worth reading for any
motive except curiosity, simple or studious.

[Sidenote: Crébillon the Elder.]

Crébillon was born in 1674, and lived to the age of eighty-nine. His
family name was Jolyot, and the most remarkable thing about his private
history is, that, being clerk to a lawyer, he was enthusiastically
encouraged by his master in his poetical attempts. His first acted
tragedy, _Idoménée_, appeared in 1703; his last, 'The Triumvirate,' more
than fifty years later. In the interval he was irregularly busy, and the
duel of tragedies, which in his old age his partisans got up between him
and Voltaire, was not entirely in favour of the more famous and gifted
writer. Crébillon's best works were _Atrée_, 1707, and _Rhadamiste et
Zénobie_, 1711, the latter being his masterpiece. He had in the eyes of
the minute critics of his time some technical defects of style and
construction. But, despite the restraints of the French stage, he
succeeded in being truly tragical and truly natural; and not a few of
his verses have a grandeur which has been said to be hardly discoverable
elsewhere in French tragedy between Corneille and Hugo.

[Sidenote: Voltaire and his followers.]

Voltaire's own tragedies have been very differently judged by different
persons. It has been said that they owed their popularity chiefly to the
adroit manner in which, without going too far, the author made them
opportunities for insinuating the popular opinions of the time. Yet
_Zaïre_ at least is still a successful and popular play on the stage;
and it is admitted that Voltaire had both a most intimate acquaintance
with the objects and methods of the playwright, and an extraordinary
affection for the theatre. If to this be added his astonishing dexterity
as a literary workman, his acuteness in discerning the taste of the
public, and his complete mastery of the language, and if it be
remembered that the classical French tragedy is almost wholly a _tour
de force_, it will appear that it would have been very surprising if he
had not succeeded in it. His tragedies, however, are by no means of
equal merit. The best is, beyond all doubt, the already-mentioned
_Zaïre_, 1732, in which Voltaire took just so much from the _Othello_ of
that Shakespeare whom he was never tired of decrying as would suffice to
animate and support his own skilful workmanship. The earlier play,
_Oedipe_, 1718, was astonishingly successful, and is still
astonishingly clever. _La Mort de César_, another Shakespearian
adaptation, is less happy. In _Alzire_, a play written in the time of
the poet's greatest intimacy with Madame du Châtelet, and dedicated to
her, his extraordinary talent once more appears, as also in _Le
Fanatisme_, better known as _Mahomet_, 1742. The best, however, of his
plays, next to _Zaïre_, is probably _Mérope_, 1743, which is a prodigy
of ingenuity. The author has deliberately eschewed the means whereby
both Corneille and Racine respectively alleviated the dryness and
dulness of the Senecan model--the heroic virtues of the one, and the
sighs and flames of the other. The play probably is the most perfect
carrying out of the model pure and simple, and its inferiority is the
inferiority of the kind, not of the individual. Indeed it may be
questioned whether, on the mere technical merits, Voltaire is not
superior to both Corneille and Racine, though he is of course very far
inferior to them as a poet, and as a draughtsman of character. Voltaire
wrote many other plays, earlier and later, of which _Tancrède_ is the
only one which requires special mention. Nor, except Crébillon, do the
tragic contemporaries and successors of Voltaire require more than very
short notice. Le Franc de Pompignan wrote a respectable _Didon_; Saurin,
who was in some sort a follower of Voltaire, a more than respectable
_Spartacus_. The subject had perhaps the chief part in the success of
the _Siège de Calais_ of Pierre Burette, who called himself De Belloy,
and who followed it up by other patriotic tragedies or dramas. But he
had the merit of attempting, though not with much success, some
innovations on the meagreness of the established model. The tragedies of
La Harpe are written throughout with the cold correctness (as
correctness was then held) which characterised his work generally.
Almost all the men of letters of this time wrote plays of this kind, but
they are for the most part valueless. Ducis is remarkable for a serious,
and to a certain extent successful, attempt to inoculate the French
tragedy with Shakespearian force. Versions of _Hamlet_, of _Macbeth_,
and other plays appeared from his hands, which were also busy during a
long life with dramatic work of all sorts. These versions have naturally
been regarded in England as mere travesties, but there seems no reason
to doubt that they really operated favourably as schoolmasters to bring
their audience somewhat nearer to dramatic truth. The classical tragedy
was indeed expiring of simple old age, and most of the names of its
practitioners, which emerge during the last quarter of the eighteenth
and the first of the nineteenth century, are those of innovators in
their measure and degree, whose innovations, however, were obliterated
and made forgotten by the great romantic reform. Marie Joseph Chénier
followed Voltaire's manner very closely (substituting for Voltaire's
bait of insinuated free-thinking that of republicanism more or less
violently expressed) in _Charles IX._, _Cyrus_, _Caius Gracchus_, _Henry
VIII._, _Tibère_, the last a work of some merit. Legouvé dramatised
Gessner's _Death of Abel_ on the principles of Boileau. Nepomucène
Lemercier, the strange failure of a genius who has been already noticed
in the last chapter, produced much more remarkable work. His
_Agamemnon_, his _Frédégonde et Brunehault_ and some others display his
merits, and show that he was striving after something better. But, like
most transitional work, they are unsatisfactory as a whole. The _Hector_
of Luce de Lancival, the _Templiers_ of Raynouard, and many other
pieces, were once popular, but are now utterly forgotten.

[Sidenote: Lesage.]

The list of comic writers, along with whom, for convenience' sake, those
of the authors of opera and _drame_ may be included, is far longer and
more important. It includes two men, Lesage and Beaumarchais, of
European reputation, half-a-dozen others, Destouches, Marivaux, Piron,
Gresset, Sedaine, who have produced work of remarkable character and
merit, and a crowd of clever playwrights who amused their own times, and
would amuse ours, if it were not that all comedy, save the very highest,
is of its nature ephemeral. The list is worthily opened by Lesage, who,
during the greater part of his life, earned by vaudevilles and
operettas, composed either alone or in co-operation for the Théâtre de
la Foire, the bread which his incomparable novels would hardly have
sufficed to procure him. This lighter dramatic work is, it may be
observed, among the chief products of the century, and it has continued
up to the present day to form one of the staple elements in the
journey-work of French literature. Little of it has permanent qualities,
yet the remarkable talents of many of the men who composed it make it,
ephemeral as it is, interesting historically and even intrinsically. It
derived partly from the indigenous farce, partly from the Italian comedy
of stock personages, and partly from the merry-andrew performances
already mentioned. The theatres at which it was performed were the
object of much jealousy from the Comédie Française, and restrictions of
the most annoying kind were placed on it. Once an edict forbade more
than a single actor to appear--a condition surmounted by the ingenuity
of Piron. Sometimes it was confined to dumb show, illustrated by songs
on placards which the audience chanted. Often the audience joined in the
chorus, and it may be said generally that singing was always included.
Besides this rapid and perishable kind of work Lesage has left two
pieces in the true style of Molière. The more extravagant and farcical
side of the master's genius is represented by _Crispin Rival de son
Maître_, 1707, a lively piece, the subject of which is indicated by its
title, and which carries off the extreme and probably intentional
improbability of its plot by its brisk and rapid action, its vivid
pictures of character, and the shower of wit which the dialogue
everywhere pours out. _Turcaret_, 1709, is a regular comedy of the
highest merit. It has been found fault with by some French critics,
enamoured of the ruling passion and central situation theory; but this
is really a testimony to its merit. _Turcaret_ is in the strictest sense
a criticism of life at the time, and the author shows the true
prodigality of genius in filling his canvas. It is often described as a
satire on the corruption and vices of the financiers, who were the curse
of France at the time; and this it is in part. But there are combined
with this satire of the loose morals of the nobility, the follies of
provincial coteries, the meanness of the trading classes; while each
character, instead of being an abstraction, is as sharp and individual
as Gil Blas himself. Like Lesage, Piron worked much for the theatre;
indeed he made his _début_, as has been said, by venturing on a task
which even Lesage had declined,--the writing of a comic opera with a
single actor only. Like Lesage, too, he has left one comedy of durable
reputation, _La Métromanie_, which, if it falls short of _Turcaret_ in
holding up the mirror to nature, equals it in wit, and has for a French
audience the attraction of being written in very good verse, while
_Turcaret_ is in prose. With perhaps less genius than Piron, and
certainly with less than Lesage, Destouches devoted himself to a higher
class of work on the whole, and has left more pieces that are
remembered. _Le Philosophe Marié_, 1727, and _Le Glorieux_, 1732, are
among the classics of French comedy. _Le Dissipateur_, _Le Tambour
Nocturne_, _L'Obstacle Imprévu_ have also much merit; and if _La Fausse
Agnès_ has something of the farcical in it, it is farce of the right
kind. Destouches wrote seventeen comedies; and, if bulk and general
merit of work are taken together, he deserves the first place among the
comic dramatists of the century in France.

[Sidenote: Comédie Larmoyante. La Chaussée. Diderot.]

In contrast to these three writers, who all followed the traditions of
the comedy of Molière and Regnard, Nivelle de la Chaussée invented, or
at least brought into fashion, what was called _comédie larmoyante_, or
_drame_. La Chaussée was a good deal ridiculed by his contemporaries,
notably by Piron, who devoted to him some of his most admirable
epigrams. But he was popular, and not altogether undeservedly popular,
though his drama occupied in French literary history something of the
same place as that of Lillo and Moore in English. La Chaussée was
followed by a greater writer, but a worse dramatist, than himself. While
La Chaussée was a clever versifier and an adroit playwright, Diderot
understood the theory both of poetry and of the theatre much better than
he understood the practice. Thus _L'École des Mères_, _La Gouvernante_,
_Le Préjugé à la Mode_ are better plays than _Le Père de Famille_ or _Le
Fils Naturel_. It ought to be said that Diderot succeeded better in two
small pieces, _La Pièce et le Prologue_ and _Est-il Bon? Est-il
Méchant?_ which were never acted. It should perhaps also be explained
that the peculiarity of what was almost indifferently called _tragédie
bourgeoise_ and _comédie larmoyante_ is the choice of possible
situations in real life, which neither of the two conventional
treatments of heroic tragedy and comedy purely comic can afford. Many
writers followed La Chaussée and Diderot. Of these the most important
perhaps was Saurin, who, not content with regular tragedy and comedy,
obtained much success with _Beverley_, an adaptation of Moore's
_Gamester_, of which Diderot wrote an unacted version.

_L'École des Bourgeois_ and _L'Embarras des Richesses_, by D'Allainval,
one of the few French writers who experienced the privations of their
English contemporaries in Grub Street, are good pieces, and so are the
short _La Pupille_ and the _Originaux_ of Fagan, a clerk in the public
service, who, like Lesage and Piron (Collé and Panard may be added),
wrote vaudevilles, _parades_, etc. for the Théâtre de la Foire. In the
titles of most of these pieces the close following of Molière, which was
usual, and wisely usual, during the first half of the century, may be

[Sidenote: Marivaux.]

The same tradition is observed in one of the best comedies of the
century, the _Méchant_ of Gresset, which, like his poem of _Ver-Vert_,
had a great success, and deserved it, being equally good as literature
and as drama. Marivaux, without, perhaps, attaining as positive an
excellence, was more original, and very much more productive. The
fullest edition of his dramatic works contains thirty-two pieces, and
even this is not complete. Several of them, _Le Jeu de l'Amour et du
Hasard_, 1730, _Le Legs_, 1736, _Les Fausses Confidences_, 1737, have
continued to be popular. All the work of Marivaux, dramatic and
non-dramatic, is pervaded more or less by a peculiarity which at the
time received the name of Marivaudage. This peculiarity consists partly
in the sentiment, and partly in the phraseology. The former is
characteristic of the eighteenth century, disguising a considerable
affectation under a mask of simplicity, and the latter (sparkling with
abundant, if somewhat precious wit) is ingeniously constructed to suit
it and carry it off.

Of the three greatest literary names of the time, Diderot, it has been
seen, tried the theatre not too happily. Voltaire, as successful in
tragedy as his models permitted him to be, was not successful at all in
comedy, and, indeed, rarely tried it. His best piece, _Nanine_, a
dramatisation of _Pamela_, or at least suggested by it, is chiefly
remarkable for being written in decasyllabic verse. The third, Rousseau,
who lived to denounce the theatre, wrote a short operetta, _Le Devin du
Village_, which is not without merit. Desmahis, a protégé of Voltaire,
produced, in 1750, a good comedy, _L'Impertinent_, on a small scale; and
La Noue, another of his favourites (for he was as indulgent to his
juniors as he was jealous of men of his own standing), the _Coquette
Corrigée_. A third member of the same class, Saurin, already twice
mentioned, must be mentioned again, and still more deservedly, for _Les
Moeurs du Temps_. The best dramatists, however, among the immediate
followers of the _Philosophes_ were Sedaine and Marmontel. Sedaine is,
indeed, with the possible exception of Beaumarchais, the best dramatist
of the last half of the century. _Le Philosophe sans le Savoir_, 1765,
and _La Gageure Imprévue_, 1768, are both admirable pieces. The author,
like many of his predecessors, was a constant worker for the Opéra
Comique, and one of the best of the class. Marmontel also adopted this
line of composition, to which the musical talent of Grétry gave, at the
time, great advantages. His best light dramatic work is a kind of comedy
vaudeville, the _Ami de la Maison_.

[Sidenote: Beaumarchais.]

Beyond all doubt, however, the most remarkable, if not the best,
dramatist of the late eighteenth century is Beaumarchais. Some critics
have seen in the enormous success of the _Barbier de Séville_, 1775, and
the _Mariage de Figaro_, 1784, nothing but a _succès de circonstance_
connected with the political ideas which were then fermenting in men's
minds. This seems to be unjust, or rather it is unjust not to recognise
something very like genius in the manner in which the author has
succeeded in shaping his subject, without choosing a specially political
one, so as to produce the effect acknowledged. The wit of these two
plays, moreover, is indisputable. But it may be allowed that
Beaumarchais' other productions are inferior, and that his _Mémoires_,
which are not dramatic at all, contain as much wit as the Figaro plays.
As a satirist of society and a contributor of illustrations to history,
Beaumarchais must always hold a very high place, higher perhaps than as
an artist in literature. Of his life, it is enough to say that he was
born in 1731; became music master to the daughters of Louis XV.; engaged
in a law-suit, the subject of the _Mémoires_, with some high legal
functionaries; made a fortune by speculating and by contracts in the
American war, and lost it by further speculations, one of which was the
preparation of a sumptuous edition of Voltaire. Besides the Figaro
plays, his chief dramatic works are _Eugénie_, _Les Deux Amis_, and
lastly, _La Mère Coupable_, in which the characters of his two famous
works reappear.

After Beaumarchais, but few comic authors demand mention. Collin
d'Harleville, one of the pleasantest writers of light comedies in verse,
produced _Les Châteaux en Espagne_, _L'Inconstant_, _L'Optimiste_, and
_Le Vieux Célibataire_, 1792, all sparkling pieces, which only need
freeing from the restraints of rhyme. Andrieux, the author of _Les
Étourdis_, 1787, _Le Trésor_, _Le Vieux Fat_, and others, has something
of the same character. Nepomucène Lemercier distinguished himself in
comedy, chiefly by _Plaute_, in irregular verse, and by a comedy-drama,
_Pinto_, in prose. These have his usual characteristics of somewhat
spasmodic genius. Fabre d'Eglantine, the companion of Danton and Camille
Desmoulins on the scaffold, is better remembered for his death than for
his life. But his _Intrigue Epistolaire_ and _Philinte de Molière_ shew
talent. _Le Sourd_, by Desforges, is an amusing play.

[Sidenote: Characteristics of Eighteenth-century Drama.]

It will be seen that the positive achievements of drama during this
period were considerably superior to those of poetry. The tragedies of
Voltaire are prodigies of literary cleverness. In comedy proper Lesage
produced work of enduring value; Destouches, Marivaux, Piron, Gresset,
and some others, work which does not require any very great indulgence
to entitle it to the name, in the right sense, of classical;
Beaumarchais, work which is indissolubly connected with great historical
events, and which is not unworthy the connection. Moreover, as a matter
of general literary history, the drama during this time displays
numerous evidences of life and promise, as well as of decadence. The
gradual recognition of the vaudeville as a separate literary kind gave
occasion to much work, the ephemeral character of which should not be
allowed to obscure its real literary excellence, and founded a school
which is still living and flourishing with by no means simulated life.
The attempt of La Chaussée and Diderot to widen the range and break down
the barriers of legitimate drama was premature, and not altogether well
directed; but it was the forerunner of the great and durable reaction of
nearly a century later. Still the actual dramatic accomplishment of this
period, though in many ways interesting, and to a certain extent
positively valuable, is not of the first class. It is made up either of
clever imitations and variations of modes which had already been
expressed with greater perfection, and with far greater genius, by the
preceding century, or of what may be fairly called dramatic
pamphleteering, or else of tentative and immature experiments in reform,
which came to nothing, or to very little, for the time being. Even its
most gifted practitioners regarded it as a kind of journey-work, which
was understood to lead to honour and profit, rather than as an art, in
which honour and profit, if not entirely to be ignored, are altogether
secondary considerations. Hence, in a lesser degree, the drama of the
eighteenth century shares the same disadvantage which has been noted as
characterising its poetry. Its value is a value of curiosity chiefly, a
relative value. Indeed, as a mere mechanical art, drama sank even lower
than poetry proper ever sank; and for fifty years at least before the
romantic revival it may be doubted whether a single play was written,
the destruction of which need greatly grieve even the most sensitive and
appreciative student of French literary history.



The peculiarity of the eighteenth century in France as regards
literature----that is to say, the application of great talents to almost
every branch of literary production without the result of a distinct
original growth in any one department----is nowhere more noticeable than
in the department of prose fiction[288]. The names of Lesage, Prévost,
Marivaux, Voltaire, Rousseau, are deservedly recorded among the list of
the best novel writers. Yet, with the exception of _Manon Lescaut_,
which for the time had no imitators, of the great works of Lesage which,
admirable in execution, were by no means original in conception, and of
the exquisite but comparatively insignificant variety of the prose
_Conte_, of which Voltaire was the chief practitioner, nothing in the
nature of a masterpiece, still less anything in the nature of an
epoch-making work, was composed. The example of _Manon_ was left for the
nineteenth century to develop, the others either died out (the adventure
romance, after Lesage's model, flourishing brilliantly in England, but
hardly at all in France), or else were subordinated to a purpose, the
purpose of advocating _philosophe_ views, or of pandering to the not
very healthy cravings of an altogether artificial society. Yet, so far
as merely literary merits are concerned, few branches of literature were
more fertile than this during the period.

[Sidenote: Lesage.]

The first, and on the whole, the most considerable name of the century
in fiction is that of the author of _Gil Blas_. Alain René Lesage was
born at Sarzeau, near Vannes, on the 8th of May, 1668, and died at
Boulogne on the 17th of November, 1747. He was bred a lawyer, and should
have had a fair competence, but, being early left an orphan, was
deprived of most of his property by the dishonesty of his guardian. He
married young, moreover, and, unlike most of the prominent men of
letters of his day, never seems to have enjoyed any solid patronage or
protection from any powerful man or woman. This is indeed sufficiently
accounted for by anecdotes which exist showing his extreme independence
of character. Like most men of talent in such circumstances, he turned,
though not very early, to literature, and began by a translation of the
'Letters' of Aristaenetus. No great success could have awaited him in
this line, and perhaps the greatest stroke of good-fortune in his life
was the suggestion of the Abbé de Lyonne that he should turn his
attention to Spanish literature, a suggestion which was not made more
unpalatable by the present of a small annuity. He translated the 'New
Don Quixote' of Avellaneda (than which he might have found a better
subject), and he adapted freely plays from Rojas, Lope de Vega, and
Calderon. It was not, however, till he was nearly forty that he produced
anything of real merit. The _Diable Boiteux_ appeared in 1707, and was
at once popular. Still Lesage did not desert the stage, and the
production of his admirable comedy _Turcaret_ ought to have secured him
success there. But the Comédie Française was at that time more under the
influence of clique than at any other time of its history; and Lesage,
disgusted with the treatment he received from it, gave himself up
entirely to writing farces and operettas for the minor theatres, and to
prose fiction. _Gil Blas_, his greatest work, originally appeared in
1715, but was not completed till twenty years later. He also
wrote--besides one or two bright but trifling minor works of a
fictitious character, _La Valise Trouvée_ (a letter-bag supposed to be
picked up), _Une Journée des Parques_, a keen piece of Lucianic satire,
etc.--many other romances in the same general style as his great works,
and more or less borrowed from Spanish originals. The chief of these are
_Guzman d'Alfarache_, _Estévanille Gonzalez_, _Le Bachelier de
Salamanque_, and a curious Defoe-like book entitled _Vie et Aventures de
M. de Beauchéne_. In his old age he retired to the house of his second
son, who held a canonry at Boulogne, and resided there for some years,
until, in 1747, he died in his eightieth year. His works have hitherto
been very insufficiently collected and edited.

_Le Diable Boiteux_ and _Gil Blas_ are far the greatest of Lesage's
romances, and, as it happens, they are the most original, little except
the starting-point being borrowed in the one case, and nothing but a few
detached details in the other. Lesage was, however, true to the general
spirit of his model, the picaroon romance of Spain, a kind of Roman
d'Aventures transported from the days and conventional conditions of
chivalry to those of ordinary but still adventurous life in the
Peninsula. The directly satirical intention predominates in the _Diable
Boiteux_, the more purely narrative faculty in _Gil Blas_. In both the
piercing observation of human character, which Lesage possessed in a
greater degree perhaps than any other French writer, appears, and so
does his remarkable power of making the results of this observation live
and move. No French writer is so little of a mere Frenchman as Lesage,
and in this point of cosmopolitan humanity he may be compared, without
extravagance, in kind if not in degree, to Shakespeare. Besides his
skill in character-drawing, and his faculty of spicing his narrative
with epigram, Lesage also possessed extraordinary narrative ability. His
books are not remarkable for what is called plot, that is to say, the
action rather continues indefinitely in a straight line than converges
on a given and definite point. But this continuance is so adroitly
managed that no break is felt, and the succession very seldom becomes
tedious. The novel of Lesage is the immediate parent and pattern of that
of Fielding and Smollett in England. It is somewhat remarkable that it
had no successors of importance or merit in France. This is probably to
be accounted for by the cosmopolitan tone which has been already
remarked upon. Indeed Lesage, as a rule, has had less justice done to
him by his countrymen than any other of their great writers. Yet his
style, looked at merely from the point of view of art, is excellent, and
perhaps superior to that of any of his contemporaries properly so

Close in the track of Madame de la Fayette followed Madame de Fontaines
(Marie Louise Charlotte de Givri), the date of whose birth is unknown,
but who died in 1730. She was a friend of Voltaire's youth, and her best
work is named _La Comtesse de Savoie_, the date of the story being the
eleventh century. She also wrote a short story of less merit called
_Aménophis_. Madame de Tencin (Claudine Alexandrine Guérin), the mother
of D'Alembert, the friend of Fontenelle, and one of the most famous
salon-holders of the early eighteenth century, was a more fertile and a
cleverer writer. She was born in 1681, and died in 1749. She had a bad
heart, but an excellent head, and she showed her powers in the _Mémoires
du Comte de Comminges_ and the _Siége de Calais_, besides some minor
works. The fault of almost all romances of the La Fayette school, the
habit of throwing the scene into periods about which the writers knew
nothing, appears in these works.

[Sidenote: Marivaux.]

But the first writer of fiction after Lesage who is worthy of separate
mention at any length (for in these later centuries of our history there
are, as any reader of books will understand, vast numbers of
practitioners in every branch of literary art who are entirely unworthy
of notice in a compendious history of literature) is Marivaux, an
original and remarkable novelist, who, though by no possibility to be
ranked among the great names of French literature, occupies a not
inconsiderable place among those who are remarkable without being great.
Pierre Carlet de Marivaux, whose strict paternal appellation was simply
Pierre Carlet, was born at Paris on the 8th of February, 1688. His
father was of Norman origin, and held employments in the financial
branch of the public service. Very little is known of the son's youth,
and indeed not much of his life. He is said to have produced his first
play, _Le Père Prudent et Equitable_, at the age of eighteen, and his
dramatic industry was thenceforward considerable. As a romancer he
worked more by fits and starts. His first attempt at prose fiction is
said to have been--for the authenticity of the attribution is not
certain--a romance in a kind of pseudo-Spanish style, called _Les Effets
surprenants de la Sympathie_, published six years later. Then he took to
the sterile and ignoble literature of travesty, attacking Homer and
Fénelon in the style of Scarron and Cotton. This brought him, through La
Motte, under the influence of Fontenelle, to whom he owed not a little.
He made a fortune and lost it in Law's bubble. Then he turned
journalist, and after writing social articles in the _Mercure_, started
a periodical himself, the nature of which is sufficiently shown by its
borrowed title, _Le Spectateur Français_, 1722. At a later period he
began another paper of the same kind, _Le Cabinet du Philosophe_, 1734.
His plays, which have been already noticed, were written partly for the
Comédie Française, and partly for a very popular Italian company which
appeared in France during the second quarter of the century. But for the
present purpose his works which concern us are the famous romance of
_Marianne_, 1731-1742, and the less-known one of the _Paysan Parvenu_,
1735. His dramas, rather than his fictions, procured him a place in the
Academy in 1742, and he died in 1763.

_Marianne_ has been said to be the origin of _Pamela_, which may not be
exactly the fact, though it is difficult not to believe that it gave
Richardson his idea. But it is certain that it is a remarkable novel,
and that it, rather than the plays, gave rise to the singular phrase
_Marivaudage_, with which the author, not at all voluntarily, has
enriched literature. The plot is simple enough. A poor but virtuous girl
has adventures and recounts them, and the manner of recounting is
extremely original. A morally faulty but intellectually admirable
contemporary, Crébillon the younger, described this manner excellently
by saying that the characters not only say everything that they have
done and everything that they have thought, but everything that they
would have liked to think but did not. This curious kind of mental
analysis is expressed in a style which cannot be defended from the
charge of affectation notwithstanding its extreme ingenuity and
occasional wit. The real importance of _Marianne_ in the history of
fiction is that it is the first example of the novel of analysis rather
than of incident (though incident is still prominent), and the first in
which an elaborate style, strongly imbued with mannerism, is applied to
this purpose. The _Paysan Parvenu_, the title of which suggested
Restif's novel _Le Paysan Perverti_, and which was probably not without
influence on _Joseph Andrews_, is not very different in manner from
_Marianne_, and, like it, was left unfinished after publication in parts
at long intervals.

[Sidenote: Prévost]

A third eminent writer of novels was, in point of production, a
contemporary of Lesage and Marivaux, though he was nearly thirty years
younger than the first, and fully ten years younger than the second, and
he more than either of them set the example of the modern novel. The
Abbé Prévost, sometimes called Prévost d'Exilles, was born at Hesdin, in
Picardy, in April, 1697. He was brought up by the Jesuits, and after a
curious hesitation between entering the order and becoming a soldier (he
actually served for some time) he joined the famous community of the
Benedictines of Saint Maur, the most learned monastic body in the Roman
church. When he did this he was four-and-twenty, and he continued for
some six years to give himself up to study, not without interludes of
professorial work and of preaching. He became, however, disgusted with
his order, and unfortunately left his convent before technical
permission had been given; a proceeding which kept him an exile from
France for several years. It was at this time (1728) that he threw
himself into novel-writing, taking his models, and in some cases, his
scenes and characters, from England, which he visited, and of which he
was a fervent admirer. He obtained permission to return in 1735, and
then started a paper called _Le Pour et le Contre_, something like those
of Marivaux, but more like a modern critical review. He received the
protection of several persons of position and influence, notably the
Prince de Conti and the Chancellor D'Aguesseau, and for nearly thirty
years led a laborious literary life, in the course of which he is said
to have written nearly a hundred volumes, mostly compilations. His
death, which occurred in November, 1763, was perhaps the most horrible
in literary history. He was on his way from Paris to his cottage near
Chantilly, when he was struck by apoplexy. A stupid village doctor took
him for dead, and began a post-mortem examination to discover the cause.
Prévost revived at the stroke of the knife, but was so injured by it
that he expired shortly afterwards.

His chief works of fiction are the _Mémoires d'un Homme de Qualité_,
1729, _Clèveland_, and the _Doyen de Killérine_, 1735, romances of
adventure occupying a middle place between those of Lesage and Marivaux.
But he would have been long forgotten had it not been for an episode or
rather postscript of the _Mémoires_ entitled _Manon Lescaut_, in which
all competent criticism recognises the first masterpiece of French
literature which can properly be called a novel. Manon is a young girl
with whom the Chevalier des Grieux, almost as young as herself, falls
frantically in love. The pair fly to Paris, and the novel is occupied
with the description of Manon's faithlessness--a faithlessness based not
on want of love for Des Grieux, but on an overmastering desire for
luxury and comfort with which he cannot always supply her. The story,
which is narrated by Des Grieux, and which has a most pathetic ending,
is chiefly remarkable for the perfect simplicity and absolute
life-likeness of the character-drawing. The despairing constancy of Des
Grieux, conscious of the vileness of his idol, yet unable to help loving
her, the sober goodness of his friend Tiberge, the roystering villany of
Manon's brother Lescaut, and, above all, the surprising and novel, but
strictly practical and reasonable, figure of Manon, who, in her way,
loves Des Grieux, who has no objection to deceive her richer lovers for
him, but whose first craving is for material well-being and
prosperity--make up a gallery which has rarely been exceeded in power
and interest.

A novelist of merit, slightly junior to these, was Madame Riccoboni
(Marie Jeanne Laboras de Mézières), who was born in 1713, married an
actor and dramatic author of little talent, and died at a great age in
1792. Her best works of fiction are _Le Marquis de Cressy_, _Mylady
Catesby_, and _Ernestine_, with an exceedingly clever continuation
(which, however, stops short of the conclusion) of Marivaux'
_Marianne_. All these books are constructed with considerable skill, and
are good examples of what may be called the sentimental romance. Duclos,
better known now for his historical and historical-ethical work, was
also a novel-writer at this period. The _Lettres du Marquis de Roselle_,
of Madame Elie de Beaumont, rather resembles the work of Madame

The works of the three principal writers who have just been discussed
belong to the first half of the century, and do not exhibit those
characteristics by which it is most generally known. Marivaux is indeed
an important representative of the laborious gallantry which descended
from the days of the _précieuses_--Fontenelle being a link between the
two ages--and Prévost exhibits, in at least its earlier stage, the
sensibility which was one of the great characteristics of the eighteenth
century. But neither of them can in the least be called a _philosophe_.
On the other hand, the _philosophe_ movement, which dominated the middle
and latter portions of the age, was not long in invading the department
of fiction. Each of the three celebrated men who stood at its head
devoted himself to the novel in one or other of its forms; while
Montesquieu, in the _Lettres Persanes_, came near to it, and each of the
trio themselves had more or fewer followers in fiction.

[Sidenote: Voltaire.]

No long work of prose fiction stands under the name of Voltaire, but it
may be doubted whether any of his works displays his peculiar genius
more fully and more characteristically than the short tales in prose
which he has left. Every one of them has a moral, political, social, or
theological purpose. _Zadig_, 1748, is, perhaps, in its general aim,
rather philosophical in the proper sense; _Babouc_, 1746, social;
_Memnon_, 1747, ethical. _Micromegas_, 1752, is a satire on certain
forms of science; the group of smaller tales, such as _Le Taureau
Blanc_, are theological or rather anti-theological. _L'Ingénu_, 1767,
and _L'Homme aux Quarante Écus_ (same date), are political from
different points of view. All these objects meet and unite in the most
famous and most daring of all, _Candide_, 1758. Written ostensibly to
ridicule philosophical optimism, and on the spur given to pessimist
theories by the Lisbon earthquake, _Candide_ is really as comprehensive
as it is desultory. Religion, political government, national
peculiarities, human weakness, ambition, love, loyalty, all come in for
the unfailing sneer. The moral, wherever there is a moral, is, 'be
tolerant, and _cultivez votre jardin_,' that is to say, do whatsoever
work you have to do diligently. But in all these tales the destructive
element has a good deal the better of the constructive. As literature,
however, they are almost invariably admirable. There is probably no
single book in existence which contains so much wit, pure and simple, as
the moderate sized octavo in which are comprised these two or three
dozen short stories, none of which exceeds a hundred pages or so in
length, while many do not extend beyond two or three. Nowhere is the
capacity of the French language for _persiflage_ better shown, and
nowhere, perhaps, are more phrases which have become household words to
be found. Nowhere also, it is true, is the utter want of reverence,
which was Voltaire's greatest fault, and the absence of profundity,
which accompanied his marvellous superficial range and acuteness, more
constantly displayed.

[Sidenote: Diderot.]

No inconsiderable portion of the extensive and unequal work of Diderot
is occupied by prose fiction. He began by a licentious tale in the
manner, but without the wit, of Crébillon the younger; a tale in which,
save a little social satire, there was no purpose whatever. But by
degrees he, like Voltaire, began to use the novel as a polemical weapon.
The powerful story of _La Religieuse_, 1760, was the boldest attack
which, since the Reformation and the licence of Latin writing, had been
made on the drawbacks and dangers of conventual life. _Jacques le
Fataliste_, 1766, is a curious book, partly suggested, no doubt, by
Sterne, but having a legitimate French ancestry in the _fatrasie_ of the
sixteenth century. Jacques is a manservant who travels with his master,
has adventures with him, talks incessantly to him, and tells him
stories, as also does another character, the mistress of a country inn.
One of these stories, the history of the jealousy and attempted revenge
of a great lady on her faithless lover by making him fall in love with a
girl of no character, is admirably told, and has often since been
adapted in fiction and drama. Other episodes of _Jacques le Fataliste_
are good, but the whole is unequal. The strangest of all Diderot's
attempts in prose fiction--if it is to be called a fiction and not a
dramatic study--is the so-called _Neveu de Rameau_, in which, in the
guise of a dialogue between himself and a hanger-on of society (or
rather a monologue of the latter), the follies and vices, not merely of
the time, but of human nature itself, are exposed with a masterly hand,
and in a manner wonderfully original and piquant.

[Sidenote: Rousseau.]

[Sidenote: Crébillon the Younger.]

Neither Voltaire, however, nor Diderot devoted, in proportion to their
other work, as much attention to prose fiction as did Jean Jacques
Rousseau. Even the _Confessions_ might be classed under this head
without a great violation of propriety, and Rousseau's only other large
books, _La Nouvelle Héloïse_, 1760, and _Emile_, 1764, are avowed
novels. In both of these the didactic purpose asserts itself. In the
latter, indeed, it asserts itself to a degree sufficient seriously to
impair the literary merit of the story. The second title of _Emile_ is
_L'Education_, and it is devoted to the unfolding of Rousseau's views on
that subject by the aid of an actual example in Emile the hero. It had a
great vogue and a very considerable practical influence, nor can the
race of novels with political or ethical purposes be said to have ever
died out since. As a novel, properly so called, it has but little merit.
The case is different with _Julie_ or _La Nouvelle Héloïse_. This is a
story told chiefly in the form of letters, and recounting the love of a
noble young lady, Julie, for Saint Preux, a man of low rank, with a kind
of afterpiece, depicting Julie's married life with a respectable but
prosaic free-thinker, M. de Wolmar. This famous book set the example,
first, of the novel of sentiment, secondly, of the novel of landscape
painting. Many efforts have been made to dethrone Rousseau from his
position of teacher of Europe in point of sentiment and the picturesque,
but they have had no real success. It is to _La Nouvelle Héloïse_ that
both sentimental and picturesque fictions fairly owe their original
popularity; yet _Julie_ cannot be called a good novel. Its direct
narrative interest is but small, its characters are too intensely drawn
or else too merely conventional, its plot far too meagre. It is in
isolated passages of description, and in the fervent passion which
pervades parts of it, that its value, and at the same time its
importance in the history of novel-writing, consist.

Some lesser names group themselves naturally round those of the greater
_Philosophes_ in the department of prose fiction. Voltaire's style was
largely followed, but scarcely from Voltaire's point of view, and those
who practised it fell rather under the head of _Conteurs_ pure and
simple than of novelists with a purpose. The prose _Conte_ of the
eighteenth century forms a remarkable branch of literature, redeemed
from triviality by the exceptional skill expended on it. The master of
the style was Crébillon the younger, in whom its merits and defects were
both eminently present. Son of the tragic author, Crébillon led an easy
but a rather mysterious life, married an Englishwoman, and was supposed
by his friends to be dead long before he had actually quitted this
world. His works, of which it is unnecessary to mention the names here,
exhibit the moral corruption of the times in almost the highest possible
degree. But they abound in keen social satire, in acute literary
criticism, and in verbal wit. What is more, they show an extraordinary
mastery of the art of narrative of the lighter kind. Around Crébillon
are grouped a large number of writers, some of whom almost rival him in
delicate literary knack, and most of whom equal him in perverse
immorality of subject and tone. Much of the formal exercise of this tale
literature was a tradition from the slightly earlier school of fairy
tale-writing, which has already been noticed. Voisenon, Caylus,
Boufflers, Moncrif (the most original and most eccentric of all), La
Morlière, are names of this class. Their prose may, on the analogy of
Vers de Société, be called Prose de Société, and of a very corrupt
society too. But its formal excellence is considerable.

Of exceptional excellence among the short tales of this time, and free
from their drawbacks, is the _Diable Amoureux_, 1772, of Cazotte, a
singular person, strongly tinged with the 'illuminism,' or belief in
occult sciences and arts, which was a natural result of the _philosophe_
movement. Cazotte's melancholy story has a place in all histories of the
French Revolution, and his name was (probably) borrowed by La Harpe for
a bold and striking apologue, the authenticity or spuriousness of which
is very much a matter of guess-work. The _Diable Amoureux_ is a
singularly powerful story of its kind, uniting, in the fashion so
difficult with tales of _diablerie_, literary verisimilitude and
exactness of presentation with strangeness of subject.

Voltaire's chief pupils and followers, while taking his own view of the
utility of the prose tale for controversial purposes, followed another
model for the most part in point of form. The immense influence of
_Télémaque_ was felt by Voltaire himself, though in his case it resulted
in history pure and simple. Marmontel in his _Bélisaire_, and Florian in
his _Numa Pompilius_ and _Gonsalve de Cordoue_, returned to the
historical romance. Something of the same class, though based upon much
more solid scholarship, was the _Voyage du Jeune Anacharsis_ of the Abbé
Barthélemy. All these books, like their predecessor, have somewhat
passed out of the range of literature proper into that of school books.
They are, however, all good examples of the easy, correct, and lucid, if
cold and conventional, tongue of the later eighteenth century.

[Sidenote: Bernardin de Saint-Pierre.]

Rousseau had a far more important disciple in fiction. Jacques Henri
Bernardin de Saint-Pierre was born at Havre in 1737. He was by
profession an engineer, and both professionally and on his private
account wandered about the world in a curious fashion. At last he met
Rousseau, and the influence of Jean Jacques developed the sentimental
morality, the speculative republicanism, and the ardent, if rather
affected, love of nature which had already distinguished him. His best
book, _Paul et Virginie_, is perhaps the only one of his works which can
properly be called a novel; but _La Chaumière Indienne_ deserves to be
classed with it, and even the _Études de la Nature_ are half fiction.
_Paul et Virginie_ was written when the author's admiration of nature
and of the savage state, imbibed from Rousseau or quickened by his
society, had been further inflamed by a three years' residence in
Mauritius. Like the books mentioned in the last paragraph, _Paul et
Virginie_ has lost something by becoming a school-book, but its faults
and merits are in a literary sense greater than theirs. The over-ripe
sentiment and the false delicacy of it will always remain evidence of
the stimulating but unhealthy atmosphere in which it was written. But it
cannot be denied that, both here and elsewhere in Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre, there is a very remarkable faculty of word-painting, and
also of influencing the feelings.

[Sidenote: Restif de la Bretonne.]

The later eighteenth century saw a vast number of novelists and novels,
few of which were of much literary value, while most of them displayed
the evil influences of the time in more ways than one. Dulaurens, a
vagabond and disreputable writer, is chiefly remembered for his _Compère
Mathieu_, a book presenting some points of likeness to _Jacques le
Fataliste_, and like it inspired partly by Sterne, and partly by
Sterne's master, Rabelais. Writers like Louvet and La Clos continued the
worst part of Crébillon's tradition without exhibiting either his
literary skill or his wit. A much more remarkable name is that of Restif
de la Bretonne, who has been called, and not without reason, the French
Defoe. He was born at Sacy in Burgundy in 1734, and died at Paris in
1806. Although of very humble birth, he seems to have acquired an
irregular but considerable education, and, establishing himself early in
Paris, he became an indefatigable author. About fifty separate works of
his exist, some of which are of great extent, and one of which, _Les
Contemporaines_, includes forty-two volumes and nearly three hundred
separate articles or tales. Restif, whose entire sanity may reasonably
be doubted, was a novelist, a philosopher, a social innovator, a
diligent observer of the manners of his times, a spelling reformer. His
work is for the most part destitute of the most rudimentary notions of
decency, but it is apparently produced in good faith and with no evil
purpose. His portraiture of manners is remarkably vivid. It is in this,
in his earnest but eccentric philanthropy, and in his grasp of
character, not seldom vigorous and close, that he chiefly resembles
Defoe. He has been called in France the Rousseau of the gutter, which
also is a comparison not without truth and instruction, despite the
jingle ('Rousseau du ruisseau') by which it was no doubt suggested.

The law which seems to have ordained that, though the eighteenth century
in France should produce no masterpiece in fictitious literature, or
only one, all the most distinguished literary names should be connected
with fiction, extended to the long and, in a literary sense, dreary
debateable land between the eighteenth century itself and the
nineteenth. Of this period the two dominant names are beyond question
those of Chateaubriand and of Madame de Stael. Both attempted various
kinds of writing, but some of the most important work of both comes
under the heading of the present chapter, and both as literary figures
are best treated here.

[Sidenote: Chateaubriand.]

François Auguste de Chateaubriand was born at Saint Malo, where he is
now buried, in 1768, and died in 1848. He belonged to a family which was
among the noblest of Britanny and of France, but which was not wealthy,
and he was a younger son. Intended at first for the navy, he was
allowed, at the outbreak of the Revolution, to indulge his fancy for
travelling, and journeyed to North America. There he learnt the
anti-monarchical turn which things had taken in France. He at once
returned and joined the emigrants at Coblentz. He was seriously wounded
at the siege of Thionville, and had some difficulty in making his way,
by Holland and Jersey, to England, where he lived in great poverty.
Chateaubriand's acceptance of the Legitimist side had been but
half-hearted, and his first published work, _Sur les Révolutions
Anciennes et Modernes_, still expresses the peculiar liberalism
which--it is sometimes forgotten--was much more deeply rooted in the
French noblesse of the eighteenth century than in any other class. This
opened the way to his return at the time that Napoleon, then entering on
the consulate, endeavoured, by all the means in his power, to conciliate
the emigrants. The _Génie du Christianisme_, which had been preceded by
_Atala_ (a kind of specimen of it), was his first original, and his most
characteristic, work. This curious book, which it is impossible to
analyse, consists partly of a rather desultory apology for Christian
doctrine, partly of a series of historical illustrations of Christian
life: it appeared in 1802. It suited the policy of Napoleon, who made
Chateaubriand, first, secretary to the Roman Embassy, and then
ambassador to the Valais. But Chateaubriand had never given up his
legitimism, and the murder of the Duke d'Enghien shocked him
irresistibly. He at once resigned his post, and thenceforward was in
more or less covert opposition, though he was not actually banished from
France. Pursuing the vein which he had opened in the _Génie_, he made a
journey to the East, the result of which was his _Itinéraire de Paris à
Jerusalem_, and the unequal but remarkable prose epic of _Les Martyrs_.
This, the story of which is laid in the time of Diocletian, shifts its
scene from classical countries to Gaul, where the half-mythical heroes
of the Franks appear, and then back to Greece, Rome, and Purgatory. The
fall of Napoleon opened once more a political career, of which
Chateaubriand had always been ardently desirous. His pamphlet, _De
Bonaparte et des Bourbons_, was, perhaps, the most important literary
contribution to the re-establishment of the ancient monarchy. During the
fifteen years which elapsed between the battle of Waterloo and the
Revolution of July, Chateaubriand underwent vicissitudes due to the
difficulty of adjusting his liberalism and his legitimism, sentiments
which seem both to have been genuine, but to have been quite
unreconciled by any reasoning process on the part of their holder. Yet,
though he had again and again experienced the most ungracious treatment
both from Louis XVIII. and Charles X., the July monarchy had no sooner
established itself than he resigned his positions and pensions, and took
no further official part in political affairs during the rest of his
life. In his latter days he was much with the celebrated Madame
Recamier, and completed his affectedly-named but admirable _Mémoires
d'Outre Tombe_,--an autobiography which, though marred by some of his
peculiarities, contains much of his most brilliant writing. Of the works
not hitherto noticed, _René_, _Le Dernier Abencérage_, _Les Natchez_,
and some sketches of travels and of French history, are the most

For some thirty years, from 1810 to 1840, Chateaubriand was
unquestionably the greatest man of letters of France in the estimation
of his contemporaries. His fame has since then diminished considerably,
and much has been written to account for the change. It is not, however,
very difficult to understand it. Chateaubriand is one of the chief
representatives in literature of the working of two conditions, which,
while they lend for the time much adventitious importance to the man who
takes full advantage of them, invariably lead to rapidly-diminished
estimates of him when they have ceased to work. He was a representative
at once of transition and reaction--of transition from the hard and
fast classical standards of the eighteenth century to the principles of
the romantic and eclectic schools, of reaction against the _philosophe_
era. He was one of the earliest and most influential exponents of the
so-called _maladie du siècle_, of what, from his most illustrious pupil,
is generally called Byronism. His immediate literary teachers were
Rousseau and Ossian. He was not a thoroughly well-educated man, and he
was exceptionally deficient in the purely logical and analytic faculty
as distinguished from the rhetorical and synthetic. What he could do and
did, was to glorify Christianity and monarchism in a series of
brilliantly-coloured pictures, which had an immense effect on an age
accustomed to the grey tints and monotonous argument of the opposite
school, but which, to a posterity which is placed at a different point
of view, seem to lack accuracy of detail and sincerity of emotion.
Nevertheless Chateaubriand, if not a very great man, was a very great
man of letters. His best passages are not easily to be surpassed in
brilliancy of style and vividness of colouring. If the sentiment of his
_René_ seems hollow now-a-days, it must be remembered that this is
almost entirely a matter of fashion and of novelty. The _Génie du
Christianisme_, despite many defects of taste, more of insight, and most
of mere learning, remains one of the most eloquent pleadings in
literature, and not one of the least effective; while the _Itinéraire_
is the pattern of all the picturesque travels of modern times. All these
works, and most of the rest, are practically novels with a purpose. Even
in the autobiography the historic part is entirely subdued and moulded
to the exigencies of the dramatic and narrative construction. Regarded
merely as an individual writer, Chateaubriand would supply a volume of
'Beauties' hardly inferior to that which could be gathered from any
other prose author in France. Regarded as a precursor, he deserves far
more than any other single man, and almost more than all others put
together, the title of father of the Romantic movement.

[Sidenote: Madame de Stael.]

His chief rival in the literature of the empire was also essentially,
though not wholly or professedly, a novelist. Anne Louise Germaine
Necker, who married a Swedish diplomatist, the Baron de Stael Holstein,
and is, therefore, generally known as Madame de Stael, was the daughter
of the great financier Necker, and of Susanne Curchod, Gibbon's early
love. She was introduced young to salon life in Paris, and early
displayed ungovernable vanity, and much of the _sensibilité_ of the
time, that is to say, an indulgence in sentiment which paid equally
little heed to morality and to good sense. Her marriage was one purely
of convenience: and while her husband, of whom she seems to have had no
reason whatever to complain, obtained some wealth by it, she herself
secured a very agreeable position, inasmuch as the king of Sweden
pledged himself either to maintain M. de Stael in the Swedish embassy at
Paris, or to provide for him in other ways. She approved the early
stages of the Revolution, but was shocked at the deposition and death of
the king and queen. Whereupon she fled the country. Before she was
thirty she had written various books, _Lettres sur J. J. Rousseau_,
_Défense de la Reine_, _De l'Influence des Passions_, and other pieces
of many kinds. When the influence of Napoleon became paramount, Madame
de Stael, who had returned to Paris, found herself in an awkward
position, for she was equally determined to say what she chose, and to
have gallant attentions paid to her, and Napoleon would not comply with
either of her wishes. She, therefore, had to leave France, but not
before she had published her first romance, _Delphine_, and a book on
literature. She now travelled for some years in Germany and Italy in the
company of Benjamin Constant, who was the object of one of her numerous
accesses of affection. _Corinne_, her principal novel, and her greatest
work but one, appeared in 1807, her book _De l'Allemagne_ being
suppressed in Paris, whither she had returned, but which she soon had to
leave again. The Restoration gave her access once more to France, and
enabled her to resume possession of property which had been unjustly
seized, but she died not long afterwards, in 1817. Her _Dix Années
d'Exil_ and her _Considérations sur la Révolution Française_ were
published posthumously, the latter being one of her chief works. She had
married secretly, in 1812, a M. de Rocca, a man more than young enough
to be her son.

The personality of Madame de Stael is far from being attractive owing to
her excessive vanity, which disgusted all her contemporaries, and the
folly which made a woman, who had never been beautiful, continue, long
after she had ceased to be young, to give herself in life and literature
the airs of a newest Héloïse. But she is a very important figure in
French literature. Part of her influence, as represented by the book _De
l'Allemagne,_ does not directly concern us in this chapter; this part
was mainly, but not wholly, literary. It was helped and continued,
however, by her other works, especially by her novels, and, above all,
by _Corinne_. This influence, put briefly, was to break up the
narrowness of French notions on all subjects, and to open it to fresh
ideas. Her political and general works led the way to the nineteenth
century, side by side with Chateaubriand's, but in an entirely different
sense. What Chateaubriand inculcated was the sense of the beauty of
older and simpler times, countries, and faiths which the
self-satisfaction of the eighteenth century had obscured; what Madame de
Stael had to impress were general ideas of liberalism and progress to
which the same century, in its crusade against superstition and its
rather short-sighted belief in its own enlightenment, was equally blind.
_Delphine_, which is in the main a romance of French society only,
written before the author had seen much of any other world except a
close circle of French emigrants abroad, exhibits this tendency much
less than _Corinne_, which was written after that German visit--by far
the most important event of Madame de Stael's life. Here, as Rousseau
had inculcated the story of nature and savage life, as Chateaubriand
was, at the same time, inculcating the study of Christian antiquity and
the middle ages, so Madame de Stael inculcated the cultivation of
æsthetic emotions and impulses as a new influence to be brought to bear
on life. Her style, though not to be spoken of disrespectfully, is, on
the whole, inferior to her matter. It is full of the drawbacks of
eighteenth-century _éloges_ and academic discourses, now tawdry, now
deficient in colour, flexibility, and life, at one time below the
subject, at another puffed up with commonplace and insincere
declamation. Yet when she understood a subject, which was by no means
invariably the case, Madame de Stael was an excellent exponent; and when
her feelings were sincere, which they sometimes were, she was a fair
mistress of pathos.

A considerable number of names of writers of fiction during the later
republic and the empire have a traditional place in the history of
literature, and some of their works are still read, but chiefly as
school-books. Madame de Genlis, the author of _Les Veillées du Château_,
and also of many volumes of ill-natured, and not too accurate, memoirs
and reminiscences, continued the moral tale of the eighteenth century,
and in _Mlle. de Clermont_ produced work of merit. Fiévée, a journalist
and critic of some talent, is remembered for the pretty story of the
_Dot de Suzette_. Madame de Souza, in her _Adèle de Sénanges_ and other
works, revived, to a certain extent, the style of Madame de la Fayette.
_Ourika_ and _Edouard_, especially the latter, preserve the name of
Madame de Duras. Madame Cottin, in _Malek Adel_, _Elizabeth_ or _Les
Exiles de Sibérie_, etc., combined a mild flavour of romance with
irreproachable moral sentiments. A vigorous continuator of the
licentious style of novel, with hardly any of the literary refinement of
its eighteenth-century contributors, but with more fertility of incident
and fancy, was Pigault Lebrun, the forerunner of Paul de Kock. Madame de
Krudener, a woman of remarkable history, produced a good novel of
sentiment in _Valérie_.

[Sidenote: Xavier de Maistre.]

Two novelists, singularly different in idiosyncrasy, complete what may
be called the eighteenth-century school. Xavier de Maistre, younger
brother of the great Catholic polemist, Joseph de Maistre, was born at
Chambéry, in 1763. He served in the Piedmontese army during his youth,
and his most famous work, the _Voyage autour de ma Chambre_, was
published in 1794. The national extinction of Savoy and Piedmont, at
least the annexation of Savoy and the effacement of Piedmont, made
Xavier de Maistre an exile. He joined his brother in St. Petersburg,
served in the Russian army, fought, and was wounded in the Caucasus;
attained the rank of general, and died at St. Petersburg, in 1852, at
the great age of eighty-nine. His work consists of the _Voyage_, an
account of a temporary imprisonment in his quarters at Turin, obviously
suggested by Sterne, but exceedingly original in execution; _Le Lépreux
de la Cité d'Aoste,_ in which the same inspiration and the same
independent use of it are noticeable; and _Les Prisonniers du Caucase_,
a vivid narrative rather in the manner of the nineteenth than of the
eighteenth century, with a continuation of the _Voyage_ called
_Expédition Nocturne_, which has not escaped the usual fate of
continuations, and a short version of the touching story of Prascovia,
which contrasts very curiously with Madame Cottin's more artificial
handling of the same subject. The important point about Xavier de
Maistre is that he unites the sentimentality of the eighteenth century,
and not a little of its _Marivaudage_, with an exactness of observation,
a general truth of description, and a sense of narrative art which
belong rather to the nineteenth. Although he was not a Frenchman, his
style has always been regarded as a model of French; and the great
authority of Sainte Beuve justly places him and Mérimée side by side as
the most perfect tellers of tales in the simple fashion.

[Sidenote: Benjamin Constant.]

Benjamin Constant's _Adolphe_, 1815, is a very different work, but an
equally remarkable one. It may be a question whether it is not entitled
to take rank rather as the first book of the nineteenth-century school
than as the last of the eighteenth. But its author (better known as a
politician) published no further attempt to pursue the way he had
opened; and though he himself denied its application to the persons who
were usually identified with its characters, there is every reason to
believe that it was rather the record of a personal experience than a
deliberate effort of art. It is very short, dealing with the love of a
certain Adolphe for a certain Ellénore and his disenchantment. The
psychological drawing, though one-sided, is astonishingly true, and
though _sensibilité_ is still present, it has obviously lost its hold
both on the characters represented and their creator. Deliberate
analysis appears almost as much as in the work of Beyle himself. It is
in every respect a remarkable book, and many parts of it might have been
written at the present day. What distinguishes it from almost all its
forerunners is that there is hardly any attempt at incident, far less at
adventure. The play of thought and feeling is the sole source of
interest. It is true that the situation is one that could not support a
long book, and that it is thus rather an essay at the modern analytic
novel than a finished example of it. But it is such an essay, and very
far from an unsuccessful one.


[288] The works of fiction written by the great authors of the century
are easily obtainable. _Manon Lescaut_ has been frequently and
satisfactorily reproduced of late years--the two editions of Glady, with
and without illustrations, being especially noteworthy. Restif de la
Bretonne is a literary curiosity whose voluminous works hardly any
collector possesses in their entirety; but the three volumes of the
_Contemporaines_, selected and edited for the _Nouvelle Collection
Jannet_ by M. Assézat, will give a very fair idea of his peculiarities.
Of most of the other authors mentioned convenient, handsome, and not too
expensive editions will be found in the _Bibliothèque Amusante_ of MM.
Garnier Frères. This includes Mesdames de Tencin, de Fontaines,
Riccoboni, de Beaumont, de Genlis, de Duras, de Souza, as well as
Marivaux and Fiévée. Lesage's more remarkable fictions are obtainable at
every library. Xavier de Maistre forms a single cheap volume. A handsome
little edition of Constant's _Adolphe_ has been edited by M. de Lescure
for the Librairie des Bibliophiles. Cazotte's _Diable Amoureux_ is in
the _Nouvelle Collection Jannet_. M. Uzanne's reproductions of the prose
tale-tellers are excellent.



[Sidenote: Characteristics and Divisions of Eighteenth-century History.]

In the three branches of literature included in this chapter the
interest of the eighteenth century is great, but unequally divided. In
history proper, that is to say, the connected survey from documents of a
greater or lesser period of the past, the age saw, if not the beginning,
certainly the maturing of a philosophical conception of the science.
Putting Bossuet out of the question, Vico in Italy, Montesquieu and
Turgot in France, are usually and rightly credited with the working out
of this great conception. But though pretty fully worked, or at least
sketched out, it was not applied in any book of bulk and merit. The
writings of Montesquieu and Turgot themselves are not history--they are
essays of lesser or greater length in historical philosophy. Nor from
the merely literary point of view has France any historical production
of the first rank to put forward at this time. The works of greater
extent, such as Rollin's, are of no special literary value; the works of
literary value, such as Voltaire's studies, are of but small extent, and
rather resemble the historical essay of the preceding century, which
still continued to be practised, and which had one special practitioner
of merit in Rulhière. But nothing even distantly approaching the English
masterpiece of the period, the _Decline and Fall_, was produced; hardly
anything approaching Hume's History. Nor again do the memoirs[289] of
this time equal those of the seventeenth century in literary power,
though they are useful as sources of historical and social information.
No man of letters of the first class has left such work, and no one, not
by profession a man of letters, has by such work come even near the
position of the Cardinal de Retz or the Duke de Saint Simon, the latter
of whom, it is fair to remember, actually lived into the second half of
the century. On the other hand, the letter-writers of the time are
numerous and excellent. Although no one of them equals Madame de Sévigné
in bulk and in completeness of merit, the letters of Mademoiselle de
l'Espinasse, of Madame du Deffand, of Diderot to Mademoiselle Volland,
and some others, are of very great excellence, and almost unsurpassed in
their characterization of the intellectual and social peculiarities of
the time. The absence of regular histories of the first merit would be
more surprising than it is if it were not fully accounted for by the
dominant peculiarity of the day, which is never to be forgotten in
studying its history--the absorption, that is to say, of the greater
part of the intellect of the time in the _philosophe_ polemic. Almost
all the histories that were written, except as works of pure erudition,
were in reality pamphlets intended to point, more or less allegorically,
some moral as to real or supposed abuses in the social, ecclesiastical,
or political state of France. This peculiarity could not fail to detract
from their permanent interest, even if it did not (as it too often did)
make the authors less careful to give a correct account of their subject
than to make it serve their purpose.

[Sidenote: Rollin.]

The first regular historian who deserves mention is Charles Rollin, who
perhaps had a longer and wider monopoly of a certain kind of historical
instruction than any other author. He was born at Paris in January,
1661, of the middle class, and, after studying at the Collège du
Plessis, he became Professor at the Collége de France, and, in 1694,
Rector of the University; a post in which he distinguished himself by
introducing many useful and much-needed reforms. He was a Jansenist, but
was not much inconvenienced in consequence. Rollin's book (that is to
say the only one by which he is remembered) is his extensive _Histoire
Ancienne_, 1730-1738, the work of his advanced years, which was the
standard treatise on the subject for nearly a century, and was
translated into most languages. Although showing no particular
historical grasp, written with no power of style, and not universally
accurate, it deserves such praise as may be due to a work of great
practical utility requiring much industrious labour, and not imitated
from or much assisted by any previous book. The _Histoire Romaine_,
which followed it, was of little worth, but Rollin's _Traité des Études_
was a very useful book in its time.

[Sidenote: Dubos.]

[Sidenote: Boulainvilliers.]

Two historians, who hardly deserve the name, are usually ranked together
in this part of French history, partly because they represent almost the
last of the fabulous school of history-writers, partly because their
disputes (for they were of opposite factions) have had the honour to be
noticed by Montesquieu. These were Dubos and Boulainvilliers. The Abbé
Dubos was a writer of some merit on a great variety of subjects; his
_Réflexions sur la Poésie et la Peinture_ being of value. His chief
historical work is entitled _Histoire Critique de l'Etablissement de la
Monarchie Française dans les Gaules_, in which, with a paradoxical
patriotism, which has found some echoes among living historians, he
maintained that the Frankish invasion of Gaul was the consequence of an
amicable invitation, that the Gauls were in no sense conquered, and that
all conclusions based on the supposition of such a conquest were
therefore erroneous. It is fair to Dubos to say that he had been in a
manner provoked by the arguments of the Count de Boulainvilliers.
According to this latter, the Frankish conquest had resulted in the
establishment of a dominant caste, which alone had full enfranchisement,
and which was lineally, or at least titularly, represented by the French
aristocracy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These reckless
and baseless hypotheses would not require notice, were it not important
to show how long it was before the idea of rigid enquiry into
documentary facts on the one hand, and philosophical application of
general laws on the other, were observed in historical writing.

[Sidenote: Voltaire.]

Montesquieu himself will come in for mention under the head of
philosophers, but Voltaire's ubiquity will be maintained in this
chapter. His strictly historical work was indeed considerable, even if
what is perhaps the most remarkable of it, the _Essai sur les Moeurs_
(which may be described as a treatise, with instances, on the philosophy
of history, as applied to modern times), be excluded. Besides smaller
works, the histories of Charles XII. and Peter the Great, the _Age of
Louis XIV._, the _Age of Louis XV._, and the _Annals of the Empire_,
belong to the class of which we are now treating. Of these there is no
doubt that the _Siècle de Louis Quatorze_, 1752, is the best, though the
slighter sketches of Charles, 1731, and Peter, 1759, are not undeserving
of the position they have long held as little masterpieces. Voltaire,
however, was not altogether well qualified for a historian; indeed, he
had but few qualifications for the work, except his mastery of a clear,
light, and lively style. He had no real conception, such as Montesquieu
had, of the philosophy of history, or of the operation of general
causes. His reading, though extensive, was desultory and uncritical, and
he constantly fell into the most grotesque blunders. His prejudices were
very strong, and he is more responsible than any other single person for
the absurd and ignorant disdain of the middle ages, which, so long as it
lasted, made comprehension of modern history and society simply
impossible, because the origins of both were wilfully ignored. These
various drawbacks had perhaps less influence on the _Siècle de Louis
Quatorze_ than on any other of his historical works, and it is
accordingly the best. He was well acquainted with the subject, he was
much interested in it, it touched few of his prejudices, and he was able
to speak with tolerable freedom about it. The result is excellent, and
it deserves the credit of being almost the first finished history (as
distinguished from mere diaries like those of L'Estoile) in which not
merely affairs of state, but literary, artistic, and social matters
generally found a place.

[Sidenote: Mably.]

The third and fourth quarters of the century are the special period
when history was, as has been said, degraded to the level of a party
pamphlet, especially in such works as the Abbé Raynal's _Histoire des
Indes_. This was a mere vehicle for _philosophe_ tirades on religious
and political subjects, many if not most of which are known to have
proceeded from Diderot's fertile pen. Crevier and Lebeau, however, names
forgotten now, continued the work of Rollin; and meanwhile the
descendants of the laborious school of historians mentioned in the last
book (many of whom survived until far into the century) pursued their
useful work. Not the least of these was Dom Calmet, author of the
well-known 'Dictionary of the Bible.' But the chief historical names of
the later eighteenth century are Mably and Rulhière. Mably, who might be
treated equally well under the head of philosophy, was an abbé, and
moderately orthodox in religion, though decidedly Republican in
politics. He was a man of some learning; but, if less ignorant than
Voltaire, he was equally blind to the real meaning and influence of the
middle ages and of mediaeval institutions. He looked back to the
institutions of Rome, and still more of Greece, as models of political
perfection, without making the slightest allowance for the difference of
circumstances; and to him more than to any one else is due the
nonsensical declamation of the Jacobins about tyrants and champions of
liberty. His works, the _Entretiens de Phocion_, the _Observations sur
l'Histoire de France_, the _Droits de l'Europe fondés sur les Traités_,
are, however, far from destitute of value, though, as generally happens,
it was their least valuable part which (especially when Rousseau
followed to enforce similar ideas with his contagious enthusiasm)
produced the greatest effect.

[Sidenote: Rulhière.]

Rulhière, who was really a historian of excellence, and who might under
rather more favourable circumstances have been one of the most
distinguished, was born about 1735. His Christian names were Claude
Carloman. He was of noble birth, was educated at the Collège
Louis-le-Grand, and served in the army till he was nearly thirty years
old. He then went to St. Petersburg as secretary to the ambassador
Breteuil, whom he also accompanied to Sweden. He returned to Paris and
began to write the history of the singular proceedings which during his
stay in the Russian capital had placed Catherine II. on the throne. The
Empress, it is said, tried both to bribe and to frighten him, but could
obtain nothing but a promise not to print the sketch till her death. He
continued to live in Paris, where he was distinguished for rather
ill-natured wit and for polished verse-tales and epigrams. For some
reason he devoted himself to the history of Poland. In 1787 he was
elected to the Academy. Then he wrote some _Eclaircissements Historiques
sur les Causes de la Révocation de l'Édit de Nantes_, and is said to
have begun other historical works. He died in 1791. His 'Anecdotes on
the Revolution in Russia' did not appear till 1797; his _Histoire de
l'Anarchie de Pologne_ not till even later. The Polish book is
unfinished, and is said to have been garbled in manuscript. But it has
very considerable merits, though there is perhaps too much discussion in
proportion to the facts given. The Russian anecdotes deserve to rank
with the historical essays of Retz and Saint-Réal in vividness and
precision of drawing.

These are the chief names of the century in history proper, for Volney,
who concludes it in regard to the study of history, is, like many of his
predecessors, rather a philosopher busying himself with the historical
departments and applications of his subject than a historian proper.
Still more may this be said of Diderot in such works as the _Essai sur
les Règnes de Claude et de Néron_. The creation of a school of
accomplished historians was left for the next century, when the
opportunity of such a subject as the French Revolution in the immediate
past, the stimulus of the precepts and views of the great writers on the
philosophy of history, and lastly the disinterring of the original
documents of mediaeval and ancient history, did not fail to produce
their natural effect. The number of historians of the first and second
class born towards the close of the eighteenth century is remarkable.

[Sidenote: Memoirs. Madame de Staal-Delaunay.]

[Sidenote: Duclos.]

[Sidenote: Bésenval.]

[Sidenote: Madame d'Epinay.]

The first memoirs, properly so called, which have to be mentioned as
belonging to the eighteenth century, are those of Mademoiselle Delaunay,
afterwards Madame de Staal. Mademoiselle Delaunay was attached to the
household of the Duchess du Maine, the beautiful, impetuous, and
highborn wife of one of the stupidest and least interesting of men, who
happened also to be the illegitimate son of Louis XIV. The Duke du
Maine, or rather his wife, for he himself was nearly as destitute of
ambition as of ability, was at the head of the party opposed to that of
which the Duke of Orleans (the Regent) was the natural chief, and Saint
Simon the ablest partisan. The 'party of the bastards' failed, but the
duchess kept up a vigorous literary and political agitation against the
Regent. The court (as it may be called) of this opposition was held at
Sceaux, and of the doings of this court Madame de Staal has left a very
vivid account. The Marquis d'Argenson, a statesman and a man of great
intelligence, concealed under a rough and clumsy exterior, has left
memoirs which are valuable for the early and middle part of the reign of
Louis XV. The memoirs, properly so called, of Duclos are of small
extent, but he has left impersonal memoirs of the later reign of Louis
XIV. and the beginning of that of his great-grandson, which are among
the best historical work of the time. His account of the famous 'system'
of Law is one of the principal sources of information on its subject, as
is his handling of the Cellamare conspiracy and other affairs of the
regency. Duclos was a man not only of considerable literary talent, but
of wide historical reading, which appears amply in his work. The
gossiping memoirs, attributed to Madame du Hausset, bedchamber-woman to
Madame de Pompadour, give many curious details of the middle period of
Louis XV.'s reign; and in the vast collection of tittle-tattle, often
scandalous enough, called the _Mémoires de Bachaumont_, much matter of
interest, and som