Le Fleuve des perles - Laraignée rouge (French Edition)

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It is a pedant's assumption that assonance is older than rime, and gradually became rime. Very likely they existed side by side, appropriated to distinct needs, from the first. Rime in French verse and assonance, if sometimes they have degenerated into toys, did not aim principally at a childish titillation of the ear : they were two ways of rein- forcing in a language of variable accentuation that con- sciousness of a regular return without which verse, in Europe, is not verse.


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For compositions uniform in measure, in which the succession of yoked lines might be prolonged at the discretion or according to the resources of the poet, assonance, striking the ear so often, was enough : it was enough, besides, to sustain the minstrel's memory, while the difference of a tone perhaps in his monotonous psalmody, gave salience to the last strong syllable of each line. What were the lyrics of this early time? Learned men can tell us.

They have shown that in the heyday of epical creation, the French love-song, made like the first epics for the whole people, but the solace and delight especially of women, flourished all over the north. Little is left but names. From scarce fragments, from many burdens that have survived to grace the lyrics of later days, from the songs of other countries — Italy, Germany, Spain — on which French models then exercised an appreciable influence, it may be conjectured that the lyrical output in this first age was rich, of delicate workmanship, extremely varied in form, and not devoid of sincerity and tenderness, but not very personal, tending often to dramatise a scanty assortment of situations, and seldom or never reflecting the absorption or the spiritual violence of passion.

The phase was short : French art took what it could assimilate, and rejected the rest. Neither its fundamental lucidity, its rude health, nor its conception of inanimate nature as above all a source of metaphors, was modified by contact with kindred but less disciplined peoples. While the feudal idea froze and became mechanical and barren, and what had been the national epic turned gradually to heartless spinning of wonders and compliant genealogies, the French lyric, steeped in the refinement of Provence and Aquitaine, lent itself humbly to the elaborate rhetoric, the shallow multiplicity of trifling variations, all the erotic and oftener Platonic casuistry of the troubadours.

It was a period of essential triviality out of which, however, French verse was to emerge more agile and more buoyant, able therefore to carry, later on, a more solid cargo with the better grace. Her daughters were the Countesses of Champagne and of Blois, both brilliant patronesses of the courtly poets. And the dependence of gallantry upon dialectic at this period is illustrated even by a poem apparently so distant in its inspiration from the mellifluous debates of courtly triflers as the famous RoTnaunt of the Rose.

Guillaume de Lorris intends his part the better in that prodigious allegory for a pleasant manual of the amorous code, while in fact he draws his matter, the interplay of abstractions which his robust and delicate talent often con- trives to colour with life, from the psychology of the schools. It marks the shifting of poetical interest from castles to walled towns, that Jean de Meung, his verbose and encyclo- paedic successor, whose virtue consists in his irrelevance, should have addressed a public accustomed to misogynous diatribes and the abuse of idle magnates and covetous monks.

Not the courts, indeed, but cities where the mental energy of the race accumulated, supply the rare oases in a great waste of insignificance. Arras, in the busy, fertile and quarrelsome North, could boast of Jean Bodel, a man of parts who tried his hand at every sort of writing, Adam le Bossu or Adam de la Hale, the hardly less versatile author of Robin et Marion, which is a lyrical diversion of prime quality cast in dialogue.

And a far greater man than either, Rutebeuf, is a Parisian from Champagne. Rutebeuf, a master of deep and sounding satire who saw the seamy side of Saint Lewis's reign, an artist who commanded the resources of a language still in flux, used rime unfalteringly and invented durable measures, maybe called the first excellent French poet whose name we possess ; the first at least who made poetry with his heart, out of his faith, his failures and follies, and pity for himself and all the world. A sort of minstrel by trade, dependent on the great who were even then tiring of their fine-spun amorists, and forced sometimes to hire out his real piety to their compunctions if it is true that TJtdophile, a masterpiece of the religious drama, and the admirable life of S.

Mary of Egypt, were written for patrons , he is the earliest articulate type of the literary proletariat in Paris. Unclassed, he had something for all the classes in the realm. Rutebeuf in the thirteenth century beacons to Francois Villon in the fifteenth, with only the flicker of sundry rush- lights searching the gloomy tract between them, except where, close behind Villon but just off the spiritual highway, Duke Charles of Orleans irradiates the sum of many nothings with a retrospective glow.

With the long list of versifiers who bear witness to the decomposition of mediaeval society, the science of language and the history of manners are principally concerned : their best perhaps might furnish out a score of pages that should contain only deft and pointed and melodious lines. It is enough to name Guillaume de Machaut, who could play the perfect suitor according to ancestral rules, but is reputed for having inaugurated the new manner consisting in an exact replenishment of rhythmical honeycombs from a store of indifferent words; Froissart, as empty and graceful in rime as he is rough and pithy in prose; Eustache des Champs, so grave, abundant and sententious ; the pettifogging Coquillart, Alain Chartier whom a queen kissed and his compeers valued for learning and prudent counsel, and Christine de Pisan, an amiable bluestocking and excellent Frenchwoman in spite of her Italian birth.

In general they are more sincere than the courtiers before them, in so far as their matter is of larger — sometimes indeed of national — interest. Prodigal of fine bookish maxims as their predecessors were full of precious sentiments, several of them display the genuine though confused and patchy erudition achieved with an abortive revival of learning under the elder Valois.

They are disputatious and didactic, in an age when ver- nacular prose already offered a more effective vehicle for wisdom and enquiry. They are hypnotised by the example of sustained personifications left by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meung : visions and allegories are an indispensable part of their stock-in-trade. As for their form, they have exchanged the sane if often childish joy in free invention for the pride of a complicated framework — the bare ribs of a starved and juiceless poetry. Tradition is a slippery word : but it is doing no injustice to Charles of Orleans, the ineffectual hope of a national royalty, the not inconsolable prisoner of Windsor and Groombridge, and a prince, when all is said, too suave and too placable for honour, to describe his work and influence, which deviate from the larger destinies of French literature, as a return essentially to the refined tradition of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

To be sure he is a master of the fixed forms elaborated by more recent generations, and three quarters of his matter is an analysis of fashionable metaphor, a perfunctory attempt to galvanise the soulless abstractions which fascinated his times. But he is no preacher, his subtleties are all sentimental, his verbal con- scientiousness revolts against the servile excellence accessible to the machinery of iteration, and in a word his work is aristocratic in the most familiar sense.

What is entirely his own is the fluid sweetness, the disencumbered gait, the nonchaloir which history reads tragically, a delicious language, unpedantic, personal in its novelties and archaisms, and so perfectly apt to evoke the fugitive vision of happy glades and silver brooks — but especially his fortunate gift of Ughting upon themes to which their very echo lends an 10 A CENTURY OF FRENCH POETS adventitious value, the illusion of a melancholy meaning. Remembering that his mother was a Visconti of Milan, and that his son was to lead a French host into Italy, we think of him too readily as a precursor of the French Renaissance.

He is much more truly, by virtue of his lovable shallowness, detachment and vague, fanciful gallantry, the last of the feudal patron-poets, and assuredly the worthiest. After him the Southern fever, which had survived the lancet of the Albigensian wars, made no more distinguished efforts, in the guise of chivalry, to capture the national genius. Villon may very probably have been an occasional client of the Duke's. Why does he seem not thirty or forty, but hundreds of years nearer to us?

Because, for one thing, he was so much more frankly the child of his own moment, engrossed by the actuality of fugitive, intensely real im- pressions, and alive through them. In the lurid twilight into which he was born, to hob and nob with death had a delirious fascination for the haggard fancy of men; and even the sane and lusty spirit of this wastrel, tramp, chamberer and cut-throat riming under the shadow of the scaffold, was harried by churchyard thoughts and haunted with the palpable image of decay, so that his verse, for all its vitality and fragrance, shares the sinister obsession of a hopeless people, tossed between hunger and pestilence and guile and rapine.

He transcends it : the peculiar resonance Villon lends to the natural man's outcry at the menace of decrepitude and extinction, is not merely an effect of the precision with which his exasperated senses perceive their very horror : his certitude of the common doom is the more acute for the yearnings of a wistful imagination excited by illustrious names and condemned to feed on its own hunger. Where are Flora and stout Charlemagne?

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If what follows seems a little fanciful, what shall be said of those who insist on reading the rhetorical question in the famous Ballade as a sort of confession of unfaith? And Villon, while he revives one of the eternal commonplaces of all poetry, touches for the first time that modern chord of a nostalgic regret for the antiquity of the ancients, and because the past is past.

The man was an imperfect artist, writing disjointedly, using a hieratic framework, mixing the gross and the grotesque with the poignant everywhere. But his power to express himself once and for all is equal to the new and extreme exigencies of a boundless candour. Of one French measure at least, the ancient octosyllable, he discovered for himself all the deep resources ; and whoever compares the Grant Testament with Hugo's Songs of the Streets and the Woods will grant that the virtuosity of the modern master goes no further than Villon's in varying the speed and shift- ing the pauses.

He knew also the need of varying the pace of thought, the value of alternate leisureliness and density. Finally none had possessed before him that sure sense of the prestige of words, and perpetual spring of verbal invention, of which perhaps it is a condition that the speech shall be already venerable, and still changing rapidly. For us, Villon is both the capital figure among the elder poets of his race, and the head of an illustrious line : for his contemporaries he was a disreputable exception. His com- rades and successors, the canting rhymsters of the ' repues franches,' were only capable of repeating the trivial acces- sories of his personal and lonely song ; and the considerable interval between his day and Marot's is filled with the turgid emptiness of an effete chivalry, the slender versified garrulity of selfish and earthly-minded citizens.

Meantime the nation slowly shook off its nightmare, and its fits of falling sickness were followed by the distemper of a second adolescence.


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The desire of knowledge was rekindled in men of books ; Burgundy, spared by alliance with the English invaders, had kept alive the tradition of an indigenous manner in sculp- ture and painting, and now transmitted beyond her borders 12 A CENTURY OF FRENCH POETS the secret of a deliberate grace of line, an Attic sobriety and luminous decision of gesture which are the household virtues of the Primitifs ; in Burgundy too, and Artois and Picardy and the Walloon country, music was born again ; the Paris students learned Greek; French farce, in this the age of decadence for the grave religious drama, gave its master- pieces to holiday crowds in the great cities ; French prose was acquiring coherence, proportions and ductility, and the spoils of Roman eloquence had fairly begun to fill the gaps of language which a larger way of living and thinking made apparent.

But in the midst of this native ferment there was an almost absolute stagnation of French poetry, gravelled by fashion and authority. Men were still wanting ; and when men came who dared confide in the vigour of their temperaments, yet skilful and scrupulous to give a durable form to their impressions and reflexions, a mighty impulse from without had in some sort diverted the stream.

II The revival of learning in France began without Italian intervention and, before it affected at all profoundly the currents of the French literature, it was become a European thing, and the apocalypse of a scholar's paradise had lit up all the West. It is true that, when French artists went to school to the ancients, they saw the paragon of docility in a living people ; and it is at least a colourable opinion that, at the Renaissance, the infant arts of France were strangled by the silken cords of a foreign enchantress. Yet it is certain that poetry, at any rate, lay bemused ; the best hope of its awakening was in the general spirit of expectancy and rest- lessness ; and it was precisely an effect of that spirit which brought the warlike part of the nation, the most alert and the best able to determine a change of direction in art and in the arts of life, into immediate contact with the sudden and versatile genius of Italy, at a moment when all the adornments of a delicate prosperity were doing homage to the memories of her ancient pride refreshed.

The continuity of the French prose literature was rescued by the prodigious diversity and freedom of Rabelais, who touches Commynes with one elbow and Amyot and Mon- taigne with the other. Yet it may be said that if divine tempests of passion had raged within him and the fire of his imagination had been greater instead of less than his ease and his delight in melting syllables, the French lyric might never have swerved from its straight course, thanks to the steadiness of his example ; for though he fought for King Francis beyond the Alps he is very little Italianate, and his substantial qualities are all homely.

Fortune made Marot the poet of a court tinged with an alien politeness ; where the adulterate valour of a windy Amadis passed for the mirror of Frankish heroism ; but where also, for the first time, there was a zest for prompt and lively talk. He sprang from those rhetoriqiueurs who had amused the solemn leisure of Queen Anne of Brittany ; but, somehow, he escaped their pedantry. He used a succulent and hearty speech, loved and ' emended ' Villon, and while reflecting the idle humours of a domesticated baronage, and even while playing to his disgrace and danger with the edged tools of fashionable dissent, kept the tone of a sober looker- on, and held uppermost all the while that GauUsh joviality and bantering prudence which are the lining, as it were, of the French gravity and rashness.

The old national fabulists live again in him, and for Voiture and La Fontaine, for Regnier and Moliere, for Gresset too and Voltaire, he incar- nated what was best worth preserving, or what could still be understood, in the spirit of the sixteenth century, which to more modern eyes he represents so meagrely. By their precipitate attempt to rival Greece and Rome with a monument of verse reared in a day upon their models, the heroes of the French Renaissance gave a singular bias to their art ; and the suc- ceeding age, in which the discipline of antiquity was accepted mainly through its affinities with the native intelligence, and its example scrupulously accommodated to the wants of the French genius, avenged too cruelly upon the lyrical idea that debauch of an unsociable enthusiasm.

I have omitted purposely all reference to the relations still in dispute between the Pleiad and the Lyonnese Platonists — Maurice Scfeve, the overrated Louise Lab6, and their group. The influence of the Pleiad upon the lyrical poets of the English Renaissance has recently been recognised by English criticism. Pedants might aspire to emulate the athletic accomplishments of Secundus and Sannazar, and allege the poverty of French to excuse their slothful prejudice.

The old Roman writers, instead of using Greek in despair at the inadequacy of Latin for certain purposes of literature, had deliberately forged for themselves a worthier instrument by analogy with the Greek. It was for French poets to enrich French similarly. But they erred by taking the indigence of the language too readily for granted, as if, because Marot's talent was content with a few words, it was the want of words that had strait- ened it.

And if it was inevitable, and in a measure salutary, at this stage, that the language should be crammed with more ink-horn elements than it could possibly digest, cer- tainly the poets of the Pleiad were tempted to prolixity by the very abundance of their material, and, what is worse, their example spread the mischievous superstition of sjmonyms, and the heresy of a distinct poetical vocabulary. Time has approved at almost every point Ronsard's treat- ment of the national prosody. He left it to Antoine de Balf to make abortive experiments with quantitative verse : his own precepts, so far from being revolutionary, did little more than define and sanction the better practice of his immediate predecessors.

Thus, he forbade certain laxities of rime and deprecated the cacophonous clash of vowels, settled the alternation of masculine and feminine endings, decreed the elision of a mute following a sonorous vowel, and insisted on closing the half line with a strong syllable in the Alexandrine, which it is one of his notable achieve- ments to have restored — especially in lyrical strophes of various measures — to the place of honour it had lost since Rutebeuf. It is true the Alexandrine of the Pleiad had not yet acquired the stability of a real unit ; a certain envy of 16 A CENTURY OF FRENCH POETS the Virgilian amplitude fretting at the limits of a measure numerically shorter than the hexameter, and of which the rhythmical elasticity was still to discover, may account for the frequent overflow of Ronsard's periods, which too often efface the terminal accent to emphasise the bisection of the line.

And his choice of the short-breathed decasyllable for his unlucky epic La Franciade, shows clearly enough how little he had divined the resources and the dignity of that magnificent type. But without him would the Alexandrine have survived at all? Ronsard is the author of the French ode — of the name and of the thing. Allured at first by the Pindaric divisions, strophe and antistrophe and epode, he came to see the futility of those appellations, and retained only the essential conception of one poem with several parts converging to a climax.

He is a great master of movement. The very notions of design, structure, composition, were new to his contemporaries, and for the first time the French lyric gained noble proportions in his hands. A sounder know- ledge of mediaeval poetry has reduced the number of structural inventions which can be ascribed to Ronsard — and still he remains the most fertile inventor in the whole history of French poetry.

He gave the name of Ode only to his longer lyrics, high of purpose, mainly objective in theme and essentially religious in tone and feeling: in reality most of the love-poems, the small delicate master- pieces on which his fame now rests, are also Odes. It is in these that his ardent and fastidious personality is most clearly expressed. In these especially he invokes the com- panionship of the inanimate, and ransacks earth and heaven for fair similitudes. Another, its counterpart and complement, is the impotence of envious time.

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No poet can ever have carried with him a more absorbing ideal of fame than Ronsard. Queens and cardinals and what was more to him his peers and scholars promised him immortality : but for him, as for Milton, the glory of which he felt serenely sure was mystical, independent of all praise. Without false shame, ho sang of it constantly, thinking less of his own person than of his illustrious tribe. For it is this after all which, more than his positive achievement, makes Ronsard stand out among the poets of France — that he lifted his art, once and for all, out of the domesticity in which it languished, and proclaimed the poet his own tyrant, with a royal conscience to guard and govern his inspiration.

In his view facility and servility were one : hence his disdain for Marot's unstudied lightness, the milk-and-honey of Saint-Gelais, the laureate of a chivalrous revival — though he could be just to both upon occasion : hence too, in part, his deliberate rejection of those pleasant toys, ballades, rondeaux, chants royaux, which threatened the freedom and the seriousness of poets with their quaint rigidity. Instead of these he brought into French poetry the real kinds — or what seemed such — into which the Greeks and Romans had distributed all metrical composition, only excepting the Italian sonnet from his proscription of ' fixed forms.

He failed disastrously with his Franciade, partly because he wanted the genius of sustained narration, partly because he had not access to the genuine matter of French epic and was easily seduced by the prestige of a bookish argument. His towering figure dwarfs his comrades — Du Bellay, the tender and spontaneous elegiac with a vein of satire, and a master of the sonnet; Remy Belleau, an exquisite craftsman; the learned Baif, the philosophical Pontus de Thyard ; Etienne Jodelle, who inaugurated French tragedy, but a better poet than dramatist.

Their aims were Ronsard's : they had little of his force ; nothing majestic in their defiance of sobriety blinds us to the fundamental weakness of the school. And when a generation has passed, and Desportes appears, sugared and precious, there is an end of high ambitions, and the fester of Italianism lies open. Those Danaan gifts of the Renaissance, the curiosity of life and the theory of beauty, came charged with dangers for the poise of the French mind.

But Italy had set up an equivocal ideal of the homo maxiTne homo, and the universal man was conceived not as a norm but as a rarity; by her example that craving to multiply the particular existence which is the principle of artistic effort as of most other activities confounded art with accomplishments and aristocracy with vocation.

It was a gain to French poetry that aesthetic emotion should be perceived as the specific criterion of perfect work, that form should be recognised as logically distinct from matter, and the legitimate object of a method deducible from the study of great models : to mistake a logical for a real distinction and adopt the Transalpine ' indifference to the content ' was, for the lesser disciples of Ronsard, to condemn themselves to laborious sterility or histrionic postures. Agrippa d'Aubign6, a Huguenot captain, wrote voluminously both prose and verse, in the intervals of fighting for religious freedom and the dismemberment of his country; his humorous Faeneste is forgotten, but the fame of Les Tragicques has almost in our times revived.

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The poem belongs to the fiercest period of the civil wars, though it was not published before the first years of the seventeenth century, which saw the final ruin of the protestant feudalism. It is long, loosely constructed, tedious in parts; d'Aubigne's Alexandrine is, like Ronsard's, a shifting entity ; and there are quagmires of finical phrase in the masterpiece, which remind his readers that the old fanatic had served his poetical apprenticeship as a purveyor of gallantries. But the rhythm has a prodigious energy, the vivid scenes of conspiracy and slaughter burn our eyes as we read, the comminatory parts are pitched in a key of Hebraical solemnity : Les Tragicques is a monument of lyrical satire which stood alone in the language until the exile of Victor Hugo produced Les Chdtiments, and is hardly to be matched in ours for the sonorous vehemence of its invective, though we have Milton's thunderous verse and scurrilous prose, and the sardonical fiiry of AhsaloTn and Achitophel.

Mathurin Regnier is a satirist of another sort. His erudition — for he knew the Romans by heart — and his colour bind him to the Pleiad: his racy freshness, zest, agility, the conspicuous power in him of seeming simple, and the continual surprise of an expression startlingly right, carry us back not merely to Marot but to Villon too.

Moliere inherited his vein and his diction, and the prose of Saint- Simon more than a hundred years later had the same vivacity and savour in a similar enterprise. This scandalous churchman he was incorrigibly profligate chastised folly without zeal, by the malice of keen senses and the tenacity of a sensuous memory which revived the very looks and tones and gestures of men, but also by the 20 A CENTURY OF FRENCH POETS integrating force of an intelligence which could gather into types the particular bugbears of his sane humanity. It was perhaps as the nephew of Desportes that Regnier felt obliged to break a lance with the implacable critic of his relative, by way of defending 'the fame of Ronsard : in any case it was a strange and deplorable confusion of issues which pitted so national a talent against the man who did more than any one else to consummate a national reformation in the matter of poetry.

Franyois de Malherbe was a Norman gentleman who spent his life in hard campaigning of one sort or another : in youth he drew the sword for his faith and the integrity of the kingdom, and ended as the champion of the French idiom in its purity, and of the literary conscience. He wrote a very few thousand lines of verse ; and of that little some is in the worst taste of the times, stilted and decorative and grossly Italianate.

How he was converted is not known, but in middle age, or rather later, he formed a new manner, from which conceits are not entirely absent, but which is in the main the perfect model of sententious eloquence. There was no exuberance in his talent : half a dozen topics, chosen for their common interest and developed broadly, in concise and solid formulas, sufficed him ; and he took only a few, and the most compact and sober, of Ronsard's strophes for his moulds.

With these, and the grave and confident tone of a robust frankness, a reasonable stoicism, he achieved two or three masterpieces which teach the meaning of orderly and true expression. But his precepts, formal and informal, were even more valuable than his example. They result from an intolerant contempt for waste material, and a conception eminently social of his art.

The chaotic affluence of Ronsard's vocabulary did not charm him : it wanted a standard, and it provoked redundance. He tilted against the Gascon brogue of King Henry's court, and referred a dispute over a common word to the porters of the hay-market, thus signifying his confidence in the usage of the Parisis, that cradle of the language. Malherbe was not insensible to the sonorous virtues of speech, but he under- stood by harmony a continual propriety of expression, and a connection of parts which the reason can appreciate.


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  4. To eliminate caprice and chasten personality seemed to him a necessary aim of the poetical discipline. He never thought of poetry as anything else but a form of talk invested with a traditional prestige, by which the particular mind trans- lates for the general the accumulated sagacity of ages. But he laboured to make it as definite a form as possible, and that is the whole gist of his riders upon the prosodical legislation of the Pleiad — that the voice should halt where the sense is consummated, and that rime should be always strenuous, never slovenly. In striving to impose these principles, he took for his models those of the Romans whose accent is most reasonable and whose labour is most cunning ; but it may be said of him that through the Romans he discovered virtues latent in the national literature, though already manifest in French building : economy, balance, a clearness which is not only like plain English practical, but logical also, and exacts an evident, a definite relation of units in a group; but especially the adjustment of proportions to the human scale.

    The development of the classical ideal in French art and principally in letters was the work of no single intelligence. Ronsard, it has been said justly, belongs to the prehistoric age of classicism, the age of individual experiment. Malherbe did all one man could do half consciously to conciliate the aesthetic scruple, the breadth and serious enthusiasms of the sixteenth century, its learning and luxurious disdain, with those gregarious instincts, that sobriety and aversion to whatever is esoteric and disorderly, that preference of discourse over ejaculation, which are the perpetual guardians of the French tradition.

    The elder Balzac takes up French prose at the point where Montaigne had left it, and gives it equality and cadence. Vaugelas, the grammarian from Savoy, reveals that sort of purity in the form of words and structure of phrase which only a passionate attachment to idiom can attain.

    But in the formation of a national taste not inferior to the master- pieces of the century, French society itself — a recent thing — directly co-operated. There was indeed a stage when those celebrated gatherings at the Hotel de Rambouillet and other great houses threatened to frustrate, or at least pervert, the enterprise of Malherbe. When fine ladies leagued with professed wits undertook to humanise the fierce energy of a rude, full-blooded, turbulent nobility disused to all the graces by the civil wars, it is no wonder they overshot the mark of the urbane in their terror of boorishness and insulsity.

    It was at first an intercourse of violent natures newly ambitious to assert themselves in a spiritual sphere, and ready to lend the exaggerated import- ance of a contest to everything spoken : there was no room for pointless talk ; and periphrastical inventions became at once a protest against crudity, the jargon of a caste, and the opportunity of a vehement egoism transplanted from camps and cabinets to drawing-rooms and bedsides. Delight in verbalisms, and a rage for recondite allusions and allegorical politeness were fostered by the vogue of a new Italianism which set in with the brilliant pastorals of Marino and Guarini, and complicated by a very superficially Spanish strain of strutting and fantastical extravagance.

    Malherbe himself did not quite escape these modish taints ; nor later did the magnificent Corneille. They were not any more than our Euphuists, our 'metaphysical school' of poetry symptoms of a decadence, but on the contrary the accidents of an effort, which at last succeeded, to soften the manners of a robustious generation. The lessons of Malherbe anticipated the consolidation of a fastidious public, secured against the charms of an exces- sive personal adventure in poetry by the ascertainment of its true intellectual bench-marks.

    But, in the first half of the seventeenth century, the immediate influence of society upon lyricism was almost entirely pernicious. There were men of talent among the ' bedside poets ' : Vincent Voiture, the spoilt child of a sphere above his birth, displays here and there an amplitude worthy of a higher ambition than to be the most facile, the most ' natural ' model of an artificial style; Sarrazin's witty triolets have an inimitable finish; the trifling fancy of Benserade is often exquisite.

    But neither they, nor Theophile de Viau nor Saint- Amant — two writers who had certainly a spark of genius, and by no means depended upon the humours of fashion for their themes, however disastrously both were in different ways contaminated by its jargon — are of a calibre to make any one regret the victory of reason over temperament. Saint-Amant, a pensioner of queens and one of the hardest drinkers of his time, wrote plentifully and most unequally, but with extraordinary mastery of rime, variety, and power of sensuous presentment.

    A sneer of Boileau's turned his heroical Moyse Sauve into a byword for inflation and absurdity: it is a poor epic, wanting enthusiasm, coherence, simplicity ; yet it contains many passages of indisputable grace and vigour ; and among the shorter poems of Saint-Amant several are remarkable for the full flavour and extreme vitality and faithfulness of the descriptions, a sensitive ponderation of sounds, a delightful comic sense and abundance of unused metaphors. It sought to represent human truth purged of its accidents; and, instead of the ideal figure summing and lighting up the movement of the Sixteenth Century, that creature of diverse aptitudes, mobile temperament, and unprejudiced curiosity called the complete or universal man, it sub- stituted, as the arbiter of its tone and language and interests, Vlwnnite homtne — the cultivated man of the world, who made the study of his fellow-men or more narrowly of his equals the occupation of a stately leisure, whose talk was mainly a ventilation of ideas, a gleaning of maxims, a definition of types, and whose abhorrence of obtruded per- sonality, intolerant of strangeness, mystery and emphasis in speech, proscribed the learned and the trivial jargons, terms of art and all that smacked of a function or a hobby or a trade.

    King Lewis tiie Fourteenth succeeded in and died in S. And so he renounced the elegiac solace of intimate avowals, the direct appeal from sense to sense and from mood to mood, the notation of fluid dreams, the hoarse eloquence of a dishevelled frenzy. What else more necessary to the vitality of art was implicitly sacrificed with these things, could not be discerned before time had exhausted the original energy that begot the three great dramatic poets and the one great lyrist of the seven- teenth century.

    Like all the classics — like most real creators — he dispensed with the credit of inventing his subjects or his framework; and by these, but much more by the ancestral, unstratified diversity of his language, he is a conciliator, soldering the Middle Ages and Marot and Rabelais both with antiquity and with his own time. Its peculiar virtues were all his : the interest of character, the very tone of reason, the scrupulous submission to con- ditional truth, limpidity, discretion, detachment; especially he had the genius of construction — that is, skill in marshal- ling the parts of a subject — and the rarer genius of com- position, which means skill in distributing the parts of a poem.

    But his supreme originality lies in the continual invention of inimitable schemes, never exactly repeated, so supple, so delicate in their obedience to a secret rule that they seem the effect of blind chance or of a precarious power until they are studied and found to be the exact rhythmical equivalent of mobile sensations and an imper- turbable comic spirit, and an undogmatical sagacity, and a quiet tireless zest for life. The dramatists concern us here only as poets.

    When we have abstracted the splendid moral gesture of Comeille, the fanaticism of his puncUmor, the casuistical basis of his keen dialogue, the thoughtful concentration of his busy plots, the poetry remains — a poetry which is the natural idiom of his thought, and never falters.

    Smoothness is not its merit, nor diapason, nor opulence of figures; and his manner, sometimes truculent and not seldom precious, yields to the alternative temptations of his time: but a virile energy, a solid eloquence which disdains extrinsic aids, and braces the will to heroical action by the bare presentment of absolute postures, a rhythm impetuous, without subtlety, translating the clash of minds by the eager attack of clauses — the brevity which resumes vital situations and digested truth, an easy and native pomp in the carriage of his lines — of a witty fancy in any shape with any result to be drawn from them to imitation in real life.

    They are a world of themselves almost as much as fairyland. The steadfastness of his piercing smile is a necessary part of his definition, so are his resolute appeal to an almost inexorable sanity and the wisdom of his social sense ; the invention, the formative power that fused Terence and Scaramouch and Patelin and the deep science of scenical perspective controlling the revelation of his creatures in words and acts, the near presence of his men and women and their indissoluble consistency as types, his loyalty to the conception of comedy and to the rule of one mood, even while his large philosophy continually points beyond the limits of the comic — by all this we are first and last impressed, to the prejudice it may well be of the admirable vehicle, prose or verse.

    The peculiar qualities of Moliere's verse are vivacity and frankness. It is neither conspicuously sonorous nor often delicate, and negligences abound : but it is downright, full of pith, prompt and never halting, and wells free and warm from that teeming brain ; and where, as in that delightful Amphitryon, his fancy schematises at will, he almost rivals La Fontaine and shows such a tact and resourcefulness as no writer, not essentially a writer of verse, could ever call to help him. Like Regnier, artistically in many ways his prototype, he is steeped in idiom, so that his very solecisms are racier than another's regularity.

    And the style deserves to be called national. Yet to suppose with some modem critics a sort of anti-classical protest in the great foe of fustian, eccentricity and the confusion of kinds, the natural, the reasonable and exclusively human master of 'man's proper faculty,' is strangely to misread Moliere. In the case of Racine at least no such discordancy has been suggested to his praise or blame: it is past doubt that his tragedy is quintessential, the most authentic and authoritative emanation of the classical French spirit, the sovereign equivalent in one art of a particular civilisation at its acme.

    He is not quite the greatest of French poets, nor even the most French, if we look for the intense affirmation of a characteristic drift — but simply the flower of the French mind. To us Englishmen Racine appears usually as an intelligence: his countrymen enjoy in his poetry, principally, a delicate mode of violent feeling.

    If any virtues of Racine's stand out, they are economy and the sense of values. Understand that a poet has weighed his words and thrown no word away, and you read him deliberately, you raise the currency of his thought, the temperature of his emotion. The rust is washed off the old lustre of metaphors, and what seemed the sign only of an idea recovers the vitality of an original sensation. For the significance of any gesture is at once relative to its rarity and dependent on the quickness of a sympathetic attention. The English poetical tradition is more tumultuous, more emphatic ; and do not the French- men of a later day feel all the seduction of a shriller pitch, a wider range?

    Nevertheless they retain the subtle memory of his atmosphere; and the redintegratio amoris which welcomes again and again so exquisite an example of 30 A CENTURY OF FRENCH POETS measure, a reticence, a suavity, a sparing of the pathetic goad ever grateful to a prompt and sensitive people, is as a continually fresh delight after the torrents, the forests and the threatening cliffs of other lands in the pastoral undulations of his He de France. We'll publish them on our site once we've reviewed them.

    Continue shopping. Item s unavailable for purchase. Please review your cart. You can remove the unavailable item s now or we'll automatically remove it at Checkout. Remove FREE. Unavailable for purchase. Continue shopping Checkout Continue shopping. You are in the Worldwide store Not in Worldwide? Choose Store. Parfois, lorsque tout dort La Coccinelle. Le Rouet d'Omphale. Trois Ans aprfes. France, a Vheure oil tu te prosternea Oh I Je sais quHls feront des mensonges Le Chasseur Noir.

    Qros Temps la Nuit La Terre : Hymne Booz Endonni. La Chanson de Joss La Chanson de Fantine. Premier Janvier Choses du Soir El Desdichado. A quelques Pontes. A David. Dans ce cabriolet de place Ballade k la Lune. La Nuit de D6cembre. Sur une Morte. Choc de Cavaliers Barcarolle Don Juan La M61odie et I'Accompagnement LaCur6e Marie Sous Bois Ballade de Victor Hugo La Montague : Pantoum Mourir, Dormir.

    La Colombe Leconte de Lisle : Notice Les Hurleurs —? Les Montreurs La Chute des fitoiles 77, Les Plaiutes du Cyclope. Sacra Fames. Le Sacre de Paris. Taime le souvenir Parfum Exotique. Une Charogne. Le Beau Navire. Le Vin de TAssassin. La Beatrice. Sully- Prudhomme : Notice. Le Vase Bris6. Resignation Mon Rgve Familier Bon chevalier masque. BeauU des femmes A une Tulipe Antoine et C16opatre Le Lit. Les Fengtres Le Glaive. Au Nord. Le Bazar. Celui qui me lira Lea Tours au Bord de la Mer. Stances: Tu souffres tousles maux. Je vous entends glisser Complainte de TOubli dea Morts.

    La Menace. Ronde Finale La Partenza, xiii. Qiuind le roi vint a sa tour. Musique sur I'Eau Soir de Printemps. Mon enfance captive Vision du Cr6puscule. La Grgle. Its constitution, as you well know, was in its best days marrowless and with- out nerve, — its youth without hope, and its manhood without dignity. But it contains a shred of truth, which at its date was fresh and valuable. In the score of lean years with which the century opens, something that had been young, that had been ripe, and which had still the name of French literature allowed it, was lying parched and shrivelled upon its death- bed.

    To suppose that this gasping veteran, whose life had been artificially prolonged until it was become a burden, was the founder of his family, to miss the glimmer of a likeness on his dull, sunken features with a virile and imperishable race, is a more deplorable impertinence than to be confident he could have no such heir as the eager and reckless child in brave apparel, whose adventurous vigour, seeming to belie his birth, was to enhance so splendidly a half-forgotten lustre.

    Michelet's magnificent formula — ' La France a fait la France' — is as profoundly true in letters as in politics : the development of French poetry, which particu- larly concerns us, has been continuous ; not progressive in every sense, but continuous ; there is not a link in the chain wanting. Where the stream of song rises no one knows — it may be followed for nine hundred years. As well might we date the beginnings of English History from the battle of Waterloo as suppose that the spirit of poetry was born in France when the long agony of classicism ended and the sons of Revolution woke the land with the sound of the horn in the woods at morning.

    And yet, so absolute is the lyrical supremacy of the last age there that whatever was accomplished in that kind before might well seem only a prelude or a promise. Such an efflorescence, bursting the more suddenly at last for a long and secret saturation of the soil, is not to be explained : we only affirm it by saying that a few great men, and many ex-, ceptionally endowed, then gave their energies to poetry. For if the artistic aptitudes of a race and of its speech — the in- fallible reflexion of a race — are never permanently modified unless by conquest, it is the apparition of genius that from time to time reveals them fully.

    They are barren at moments of convulsion, in ages of extreme lassitude and of little men ; in others fashion, the pride of perfect imitation, starving certain faculties to glut the rest, inflicts a onesided — at first sometimes a salutary — discipline upon the formal conditions of the effort to create.

    But a dozen masterpieces would suffice to prove an abiding possibility. If we go back to the start of that long period in which all but the entire imaginative literature of Western Europe either belonged to them, or bore witness to the restlessness of their blood and the attraction of their delectable tongue, at the very gates of that age-long dominion we find the most constant moulds of French verse, with some constitutional virtues of French art, and the instincts and ideals to which this people is perpetually returning, already manifest in three anonymous poems composed, or re-com- posed, during the eleventh century — and that is full two hundred years before the land was welded into one polity again, and longer still before the idiom of the Royal Demesne had evicted its near neighbours of the langue d'oU.

    The pomp and subtlety of the classical measures feebly perpetuated by the gaunt bookishness of cloisters, the dying echo of the swinging choruses so much more Roman! The language itself, with its scrupulous articulation, its habit of just equi- poise and contempt for stresses that are not significant, not dictated by the mind, — its inward harmony, which relies on uniformity of movement towards an ideal point fixed by a suspension of the sense or an anticipation of the ear , laid the foundations of their theory : — a tale of syllables which must be exact; in the long lines an interruption — and a respite for the voice — at a settled place where thoughts have converged with some intensity ; another at the end to mark the measure ; lastly, a recurrence of the final sounds.

    The poems I have spoken of were stories, not what we call songs. Assonance is the repetition of a vowel-sound, rime the repetition of a vowel-sound and any consonant sounds that may follow. It is a pedant's assumption that assonance is older than rime, and gradually became rime.

    Very likely they existed side by side, appropriated to distinct needs, from the first. Rime in French verse and assonance, if sometimes they have degenerated into toys, did not aim principally at a childish titillation of the ear : they were two ways of rein- forcing in a language of variable accentuation that con- sciousness of a regular return without which verse, in Europe, is not verse. For compositions uniform in measure, in which the succession of yoked lines might be prolonged at the discretion or according to the resources of the poet, assonance, striking the ear so often, was enough : it was enough, besides, to sustain the minstrel's memory, while the difference of a tone perhaps in his monotonous psalmody, gave salience to the last strong syllable of each line.

    What were the lyrics of this early time? Learned men can tell us. They have shown that in the heyday of epical creation, the French love-song, made like the first epics for the whole people, but the solace and delight especially of women, flourished all over the north. Little is left but names. From scarce fragments, from many burdens that have survived to grace the lyrics of later days, from the songs of other countries — Italy, Germany, Spain — on which French models then exercised an appreciable influence, it may be conjectured that the lyrical output in this first age was rich, of delicate workmanship, extremely varied in form, and not devoid of sincerity and tenderness, but not very personal, tending often to dramatise a scanty assortment of situations, and seldom or never reflecting the absorption or the spiritual violence of passion.

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    The phase was short : French art took what it could assimilate, and rejected the rest. Neither its fundamental lucidity, its rude health, nor its conception of inanimate nature as above all a source of metaphors, was modified by contact with kindred but less disciplined peoples. While the feudal idea froze and became mechanical and barren, and what had been the national epic turned gradually to heartless spinning of wonders and compliant genealogies, the French lyric, steeped in the refinement of Provence and Aquitaine, lent itself humbly to the elaborate rhetoric, the shallow multiplicity of trifling variations, all the erotic and oftener Platonic casuistry of the troubadours.

    It was a period of essential triviality out of which, however, French verse was to emerge more agile and more buoyant, able therefore to carry, later on, a more solid cargo with the better grace. Her daughters were the Countesses of Champagne and of Blois, both brilliant patronesses of the courtly poets. And the dependence of gallantry upon dialectic at this period is illustrated even by a poem apparently so distant in its inspiration from the mellifluous debates of courtly triflers as the famous RoTnaunt of the Rose.

    Guillaume de Lorris intends his part the better in that prodigious allegory for a pleasant manual of the amorous code, while in fact he draws his matter, the interplay of abstractions which his robust and delicate talent often con- trives to colour with life, from the psychology of the schools.

    It marks the shifting of poetical interest from castles to walled towns, that Jean de Meung, his verbose and encyclo- paedic successor, whose virtue consists in his irrelevance, should have addressed a public accustomed to misogynous diatribes and the abuse of idle magnates and covetous monks. Not the courts, indeed, but cities where the mental energy of the race accumulated, supply the rare oases in a great waste of insignificance. Arras, in the busy, fertile and quarrelsome North, could boast of Jean Bodel, a man of parts who tried his hand at every sort of writing, Adam le Bossu or Adam de la Hale, the hardly less versatile author of Robin et Marion, which is a lyrical diversion of prime quality cast in dialogue.

    And a far greater man than either, Rutebeuf, is a Parisian from Champagne. Rutebeuf, a master of deep and sounding satire who saw the seamy side of Saint Lewis's reign, an artist who commanded the resources of a language still in flux, used rime unfalteringly and invented durable measures, maybe called the first excellent French poet whose name we possess ; the first at least who made poetry with his heart, out of his faith, his failures and follies, and pity for himself and all the world.

    A sort of minstrel by trade, dependent on the great who were even then tiring of their fine-spun amorists, and forced sometimes to hire out his real piety to their compunctions if it is true that TJtdophile, a masterpiece of the religious drama, and the admirable life of S.

    Mary of Egypt, were written for patrons , he is the earliest articulate type of the literary proletariat in Paris. Unclassed, he had something for all the classes in the realm. Rutebeuf in the thirteenth century beacons to Francois Villon in the fifteenth, with only the flicker of sundry rush- lights searching the gloomy tract between them, except where, close behind Villon but just off the spiritual highway, Duke Charles of Orleans irradiates the sum of many nothings with a retrospective glow. With the long list of versifiers who bear witness to the decomposition of mediaeval society, the science of language and the history of manners are principally concerned : their best perhaps might furnish out a score of pages that should contain only deft and pointed and melodious lines.

    It is enough to name Guillaume de Machaut, who could play the perfect suitor according to ancestral rules, but is reputed for having inaugurated the new manner consisting in an exact replenishment of rhythmical honeycombs from a store of indifferent words; Froissart, as empty and graceful in rime as he is rough and pithy in prose; Eustache des Champs, so grave, abundant and sententious ; the pettifogging Coquillart, Alain Chartier whom a queen kissed and his compeers valued for learning and prudent counsel, and Christine de Pisan, an amiable bluestocking and excellent Frenchwoman in spite of her Italian birth.

    In general they are more sincere than the courtiers before them, in so far as their matter is of larger — sometimes indeed of national — interest. Prodigal of fine bookish maxims as their predecessors were full of precious sentiments, several of them display the genuine though confused and patchy erudition achieved with an abortive revival of learning under the elder Valois. They are disputatious and didactic, in an age when ver- nacular prose already offered a more effective vehicle for wisdom and enquiry.

    They are hypnotised by the example of sustained personifications left by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meung : visions and allegories are an indispensable part of their stock-in-trade. As for their form, they have exchanged the sane if often childish joy in free invention for the pride of a complicated framework — the bare ribs of a starved and juiceless poetry. Tradition is a slippery word : but it is doing no injustice to Charles of Orleans, the ineffectual hope of a national royalty, the not inconsolable prisoner of Windsor and Groombridge, and a prince, when all is said, too suave and too placable for honour, to describe his work and influence, which deviate from the larger destinies of French literature, as a return essentially to the refined tradition of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

    To be sure he is a master of the fixed forms elaborated by more recent generations, and three quarters of his matter is an analysis of fashionable metaphor, a perfunctory attempt to galvanise the soulless abstractions which fascinated his times.

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    But he is no preacher, his subtleties are all sentimental, his verbal con- scientiousness revolts against the servile excellence accessible to the machinery of iteration, and in a word his work is aristocratic in the most familiar sense. What is entirely his own is the fluid sweetness, the disencumbered gait, the nonchaloir which history reads tragically, a delicious language, unpedantic, personal in its novelties and archaisms, and so perfectly apt to evoke the fugitive vision of happy glades and silver brooks — but especially his fortunate gift of Ughting upon themes to which their very echo lends an 10 A CENTURY OF FRENCH POETS adventitious value, the illusion of a melancholy meaning.

    Remembering that his mother was a Visconti of Milan, and that his son was to lead a French host into Italy, we think of him too readily as a precursor of the French Renaissance. He is much more truly, by virtue of his lovable shallowness, detachment and vague, fanciful gallantry, the last of the feudal patron-poets, and assuredly the worthiest. After him the Southern fever, which had survived the lancet of the Albigensian wars, made no more distinguished efforts, in the guise of chivalry, to capture the national genius. Villon may very probably have been an occasional client of the Duke's.

    Why does he seem not thirty or forty, but hundreds of years nearer to us? Because, for one thing, he was so much more frankly the child of his own moment, engrossed by the actuality of fugitive, intensely real im- pressions, and alive through them. In the lurid twilight into which he was born, to hob and nob with death had a delirious fascination for the haggard fancy of men; and even the sane and lusty spirit of this wastrel, tramp, chamberer and cut-throat riming under the shadow of the scaffold, was harried by churchyard thoughts and haunted with the palpable image of decay, so that his verse, for all its vitality and fragrance, shares the sinister obsession of a hopeless people, tossed between hunger and pestilence and guile and rapine.

    He transcends it : the peculiar resonance Villon lends to the natural man's outcry at the menace of decrepitude and extinction, is not merely an effect of the precision with which his exasperated senses perceive their very horror : his certitude of the common doom is the more acute for the yearnings of a wistful imagination excited by illustrious names and condemned to feed on its own hunger. Where are Flora and stout Charlemagne?

    If what follows seems a little fanciful, what shall be said of those who insist on reading the rhetorical question in the famous Ballade as a sort of confession of unfaith? And Villon, while he revives one of the eternal commonplaces of all poetry, touches for the first time that modern chord of a nostalgic regret for the antiquity of the ancients, and because the past is past. The man was an imperfect artist, writing disjointedly, using a hieratic framework, mixing the gross and the grotesque with the poignant everywhere.

    But his power to express himself once and for all is equal to the new and extreme exigencies of a boundless candour. Of one French measure at least, the ancient octosyllable, he discovered for himself all the deep resources ; and whoever compares the Grant Testament with Hugo's Songs of the Streets and the Woods will grant that the virtuosity of the modern master goes no further than Villon's in varying the speed and shift- ing the pauses.

    He knew also the need of varying the pace of thought, the value of alternate leisureliness and density. Finally none had possessed before him that sure sense of the prestige of words, and perpetual spring of verbal invention, of which perhaps it is a condition that the speech shall be already venerable, and still changing rapidly. For us, Villon is both the capital figure among the elder poets of his race, and the head of an illustrious line : for his contemporaries he was a disreputable exception.

    His com- rades and successors, the canting rhymsters of the ' repues franches,' were only capable of repeating the trivial acces- sories of his personal and lonely song ; and the considerable interval between his day and Marot's is filled with the turgid emptiness of an effete chivalry, the slender versified garrulity of selfish and earthly-minded citizens.

    Meantime the nation slowly shook off its nightmare, and its fits of falling sickness were followed by the distemper of a second adolescence. The desire of knowledge was rekindled in men of books ; Burgundy, spared by alliance with the English invaders, had kept alive the tradition of an indigenous manner in sculp- ture and painting, and now transmitted beyond her borders 12 A CENTURY OF FRENCH POETS the secret of a deliberate grace of line, an Attic sobriety and luminous decision of gesture which are the household virtues of the Primitifs ; in Burgundy too, and Artois and Picardy and the Walloon country, music was born again ; the Paris students learned Greek; French farce, in this the age of decadence for the grave religious drama, gave its master- pieces to holiday crowds in the great cities ; French prose was acquiring coherence, proportions and ductility, and the spoils of Roman eloquence had fairly begun to fill the gaps of language which a larger way of living and thinking made apparent.

    But in the midst of this native ferment there was an almost absolute stagnation of French poetry, gravelled by fashion and authority. Men were still wanting ; and when men came who dared confide in the vigour of their temperaments, yet skilful and scrupulous to give a durable form to their impressions and reflexions, a mighty impulse from without had in some sort diverted the stream. II The revival of learning in France began without Italian intervention and, before it affected at all profoundly the currents of the French literature, it was become a European thing, and the apocalypse of a scholar's paradise had lit up all the West.

    It is true that, when French artists went to school to the ancients, they saw the paragon of docility in a living people ; and it is at least a colourable opinion that, at the Renaissance, the infant arts of France were strangled by the silken cords of a foreign enchantress. Yet it is certain that poetry, at any rate, lay bemused ; the best hope of its awakening was in the general spirit of expectancy and rest- lessness ; and it was precisely an effect of that spirit which brought the warlike part of the nation, the most alert and the best able to determine a change of direction in art and in the arts of life, into immediate contact with the sudden and versatile genius of Italy, at a moment when all the adornments of a delicate prosperity were doing homage to the memories of her ancient pride refreshed.

    The continuity of the French prose literature was rescued by the prodigious diversity and freedom of Rabelais, who touches Commynes with one elbow and Amyot and Mon- taigne with the other. Yet it may be said that if divine tempests of passion had raged within him and the fire of his imagination had been greater instead of less than his ease and his delight in melting syllables, the French lyric might never have swerved from its straight course, thanks to the steadiness of his example ; for though he fought for King Francis beyond the Alps he is very little Italianate, and his substantial qualities are all homely.

    Fortune made Marot the poet of a court tinged with an alien politeness ; where the adulterate valour of a windy Amadis passed for the mirror of Frankish heroism ; but where also, for the first time, there was a zest for prompt and lively talk. He sprang from those rhetoriqiueurs who had amused the solemn leisure of Queen Anne of Brittany ; but, somehow, he escaped their pedantry.

    He used a succulent and hearty speech, loved and ' emended ' Villon, and while reflecting the idle humours of a domesticated baronage, and even while playing to his disgrace and danger with the edged tools of fashionable dissent, kept the tone of a sober looker- on, and held uppermost all the while that GauUsh joviality and bantering prudence which are the lining, as it were, of the French gravity and rashness.

    The old national fabulists live again in him, and for Voiture and La Fontaine, for Regnier and Moliere, for Gresset too and Voltaire, he incar- nated what was best worth preserving, or what could still be understood, in the spirit of the sixteenth century, which to more modern eyes he represents so meagrely. By their precipitate attempt to rival Greece and Rome with a monument of verse reared in a day upon their models, the heroes of the French Renaissance gave a singular bias to their art ; and the suc- ceeding age, in which the discipline of antiquity was accepted mainly through its affinities with the native intelligence, and its example scrupulously accommodated to the wants of the French genius, avenged too cruelly upon the lyrical idea that debauch of an unsociable enthusiasm.

    I have omitted purposely all reference to the relations still in dispute between the Pleiad and the Lyonnese Platonists — Maurice Scfeve, the overrated Louise Lab6, and their group. The influence of the Pleiad upon the lyrical poets of the English Renaissance has recently been recognised by English criticism. Pedants might aspire to emulate the athletic accomplishments of Secundus and Sannazar, and allege the poverty of French to excuse their slothful prejudice. The old Roman writers, instead of using Greek in despair at the inadequacy of Latin for certain purposes of literature, had deliberately forged for themselves a worthier instrument by analogy with the Greek.

    It was for French poets to enrich French similarly. But they erred by taking the indigence of the language too readily for granted, as if, because Marot's talent was content with a few words, it was the want of words that had strait- ened it. And if it was inevitable, and in a measure salutary, at this stage, that the language should be crammed with more ink-horn elements than it could possibly digest, cer- tainly the poets of the Pleiad were tempted to prolixity by the very abundance of their material, and, what is worse, their example spread the mischievous superstition of sjmonyms, and the heresy of a distinct poetical vocabulary.

    Time has approved at almost every point Ronsard's treat- ment of the national prosody. He left it to Antoine de Balf to make abortive experiments with quantitative verse : his own precepts, so far from being revolutionary, did little more than define and sanction the better practice of his immediate predecessors. Thus, he forbade certain laxities of rime and deprecated the cacophonous clash of vowels, settled the alternation of masculine and feminine endings, decreed the elision of a mute following a sonorous vowel, and insisted on closing the half line with a strong syllable in the Alexandrine, which it is one of his notable achieve- ments to have restored — especially in lyrical strophes of various measures — to the place of honour it had lost since Rutebeuf.

    à : to, toward, towards

    It is true the Alexandrine of the Pleiad had not yet acquired the stability of a real unit ; a certain envy of 16 A CENTURY OF FRENCH POETS the Virgilian amplitude fretting at the limits of a measure numerically shorter than the hexameter, and of which the rhythmical elasticity was still to discover, may account for the frequent overflow of Ronsard's periods, which too often efface the terminal accent to emphasise the bisection of the line. And his choice of the short-breathed decasyllable for his unlucky epic La Franciade, shows clearly enough how little he had divined the resources and the dignity of that magnificent type.

    But without him would the Alexandrine have survived at all? Ronsard is the author of the French ode — of the name and of the thing. Allured at first by the Pindaric divisions, strophe and antistrophe and epode, he came to see the futility of those appellations, and retained only the essential conception of one poem with several parts converging to a climax.