ESSAYS ON THE POETRY OF THE FRENCH RENAISSANCE
"... Ceux dont la Fantaisie Sera religieuse et devote envers Dieu Tousjours acheveront quelque grant Poesie, Et dessus leur renom la Parque n'aura lieu."
LONDON DUCKWORTH AND CO. 3, HENRIETTA STREET, COVE NT GARDEN, W.C.
CHISWICK PRESS: CHARLES WHITTINGHAM AND CO TOOKS COURT, CHANCERY LANE, LONDON.
Part of this book originally appeared in "The Pilot," and is here reprinted by kind permission of the Editor.
CHARLES OF ORLEANS VILLON MAROT RONSARD Du BELLAY MALHERBE
TO F.Y. ECCLES
MY DEAR ECCLES,
You will, I know, permit me to address you these essays which are more the product of your erudition than of my enthusiasm.
With the motives of their appearance you are familiar.
We have wondered together that a society so avid of experience and enlargement as is ours, should ignore the chief expression of its closest neighbour, its highest rival and its coheir in Europe: should ignore, I mean, the literature of the French.
We have laughed together, not without despair, to see the mind of England, for all its majesty and breadth, informed at the most critical moments in the policy of France by such residents of Paris as were at the best fanatical, at the worst (and most ordinary) corrupt.
Seeing around us here a philosophy and method drawn from northern Germany, a true and subtle sympathy with the Italians, and a perpetual, just and accurate comment upon the minor nationalities of Europe, a mass of recorded travel superior by far to that of other countries, we marvelled that France in particular should have remained unknown.
We were willing, in an earlier youth, to read this riddle in somewhat crude solutions. I think we have each of us arrived, and in a final manner, at the sounder conclusion that historical accident is principally to blame. The chance concurrence of this defeat with that dynastic influence, the slip by which the common sense of political simplicity missed footing in England and fell a generation behind, the marvellous industrial activities of this country, protected by a tradition of political discipline which will remain unique in History; the contemporaneous settling down of France into the equilibrium of power—an equilibrium not established without five hearty civil wars and perhaps a hundred campaigns—all these so separated the two worlds of thought as to leave France excusable for her blindness towards the destinies and nature of England, and England excusable for her continued emptiness of knowledge upon the energy and genius of France: though these were increasing daily, immensely, at our very side.
We have assisted at some straining of such barriers. A long peace, the sterility of Germany, the interesting activities of the Catholic Church, have perhaps not yet changed, but have at least disturbed the mind of the north, and ours, a northern people's, with it. The unity, the passionate patriotism, the close oligarchic polity, the very silence of the English has arrested the eyes of France. By a law which is universal where bodies are bound in one system, an extreme of separation has wrought its own remedy and the return towards a closer union is begun. I do not refer to such ephemeral and artificial manifestations as a special and somewhat humiliating need may demand; I consider rather that large sweep of tendency which was already apparent fifteen years after the Franco-Prussian War. An approach in taste, manners and expression well defined during our undergraduate years, has now introduced much of our inmost life to the French, to us already a hint of their philosophy.
I think you believe, as I do, that the return has begun.
We shall not live to see that fine unity of the west which lent the latter seventeenth and eighteenth centuries their classical repose. No common rule of verse or prose will satisfy men's permanent desire for harmony: no common rule of manners, of honour, of international ethics, of war. We shall not live to see, though we are young now, a Paris reading some new Locke or Hume, a London moved to attentive delight in some latter trinity of Dramatists, some future Voltaire.... The high, protected class, which moved at ease between the Capitals of the World, has disappeared; that which should take its place is not yet formed. We are both of that one Faith which can but regard our Christendom as the front of mankind and which, therefore, looks forward, as to a necessary goal, to the re-establishment of its common comprehension. But the reversion to such stability is slow. We shall not live to see it.
It is none the less our duty (if I may use a word of so unsavoury a connotation) to advance the accomplishment of this good fatality.
Not indeed that a vulgar cosmopolitan beatitude can inspire an honest man. To abandon one's patriotism, and to despise a frontier or a flag, is, we are agreed, the negation of Europe. There are Frenchmen who forget their battles, and Englishmen to whom a gold mine, a chance federal theory, a colonial accent, or a map, is more of an inheritance than the delicate feminine profile of Nelson or the hitherto unbroken traditions of our political scheme. To such men arms are either abhorrent, or, what is worse, a very cowardly (and thank God! unsuccessful) method of acquiring or defending their very base enjoyments. Let us forget them. It is only as nationalists, and only in an intense sympathy with the highly individual national unities of Europe that we may approach the endeavour of which I have spoken.
With us, I fear, that endeavour must take a literary form, but such a channel is far from ignoble or valueless. He that knows some part of the letters of a foreign nation, be it but the graces or even the vagaries of such letters, knows something of that nation's mind. To portray for the populace one religion welding the west together, to spread a common philosophy, or to interpret and arrange political terms, would certainly prove a more lasting labour: but you will agree with me that mere sympathy in letters is not to be despised.
We have observed together that the balance in this matter is heavily against the English. M. Jusserand is easily the first authority upon popular life in England at the close of the middle ages. M. Boutmy has produced an analysis of our political development which our Universities have justly recognized. Our friend M. Angellier of the Ecole Normale has written what is acknowledged by the more learned Scotch to be the principal existing monograph upon Robert Burns; Mr. Kipling himself has snatched the attention of M. Chevrillon. You know how many names might be added to this list to prove the close, applied and penetrating manner in which French scholars have latterly presented our English writers to their fellow-citizens.
We have both believed that something of the sort might be attempted in the converse; that a view could be given—a glimpse at least—of that vast organism whose foundations are in Rome, Coeval with the spring of Christianity, and whose last growth seems as vigorous and as fecund as though it were exempt from any laws of age.
But, I say, we know how heavy is the balance against us.
The Gallic ritual is unrecognized, even by our over-numerous class of clerical antiquarians. The Carolingian cycle is neglected, save perhaps for a dozen men who have seen the Song of Roland. The Complaints of Rusteboeuf, the Fabliaux, all the local legendary poetry, all the chroniclers (save Froissart—for he wrote of us), the tender simplicity of Joinville, the hard steel of Villehardouin, no one has handled.
The fifteenth century, the storm of the Renaissance, are not taught. Why, Rabelais himself might be but an unfamiliar name had not a northern squire of genius rendered to the life three quarters of his work.
The list is interminable. Even the great Drama of the great century is but a text for our schools leaving no sort of trace upon the mind: and as for the French moderns (I have heard it from men of liberal education) they are denied to have written any poetry at all: so exact, so subtle, so readily to be missed, are the proportions of their speech.
If you ask me why I should myself approach the matter, I can plead some inheritance of French blood, comparable, I believe, to your own; and though I have no sort of claim to that unique and accomplished scholarship which gives you a mastery of the French tongue unmatched in England, and a complete familiarity with its history, application and genius, yet I can put to my credit a year of active, if eccentric, experience in a French barrack room, and a complete segregation during those twelve memorable months wherein I could study the very soul of this sincere, creative, and tenacious people.
Your learning, my singular adventure, have increased in us, it must be confessed, a permanent and reasoned admiration for this people's qualities. Such an attitude of mind is rare enough and often dangerous: it is but a qualification the more for beginning the work. It permits us to follow the main line of the past of the French, to comprehend and not to be troubled by the energy of their present, to catch the advancing omens of their future.
Indeed, if anything of France is to be explained in English and to people reading English, I could not desire a better alliance than yours and mine.
But if you ask me why the Renaissance especially—or why in the Renaissance these six poets alone—should have formed the subject of my first endeavour, I can only tell you that in so vast a province, whereof the most ample leisure could not in a lifetime exhaust a tithe, Chance, that happy Goddess, led me at random to their groves.
Whether it will be possible to continue such interpretation I do not know, but if it be so possible, I know still less what next may be put into my hands: Racine, perhaps, may call me, or those forgotten men who urged the Revolution with phrases of fire.
H. BELLOC. CHELSEA, January, 1904.
CHARLES OF ORLEANS.
I put down Charles of Orleans here as the first representative of that long glory which it is the business of this little book to recall: but to give him such a place at the threshold requires some apology.
The origins of a literary epoch differ according as that epoch is primal or derivative. There are those edifices of letters which start up, not indeed out of nothing, but out of things wholly different. Produced by a shock or a revelation, as two gases lit will, in a sharp explosion, unite to form a liquid wholly unlike either, so after a great conquest, a battle, the sudden preaching of a creed, these primal literatures appear in an epic or a dithyrambic code of awful law. Their first effort is their mightiest. They come mature. They are allied to that element of the catastrophic which the modern world (taking its general philosophy from its social condition) denies, but which is yet at the limits of all things separate and themselves; accompanies every birth, and strikes agony into every transition of death.
Those other much commoner epochs in the history of letters, which may be called derivative, have this current and obvious quality, that their beginnings merge into the soil that bred them, also (very often) their decay will lapse imperceptibly into newer things. They are quite definite, but also definitely parented. We know their special stuff and harmony, but we can point out clearly enough the elements which formed that stuff, the tones which unite in that harmony. We can show with dates and citations the parts meeting and blending; our difficulty is not to determine the influences which have mixed to make the general school, but rather to fix the beginning and the end of its effect upon men.
In the first of these the leader, sometimes the unique example of the school, stands out great, but particular and clear, on a background vague or dark. He is as stupendous, yet as sharp and certain, as a mountain facing the morning, with only sky behind. In the second the originator, if there be one, is vague, tentative, perhaps unknown. More often many minor men together introduce a slow and general transition.
Now the French Renaissance has this peculiar mark, that it holds quite plainly by one side of it to the first by the other to the second of these spirits.
It was primal and catastrophic in that it made something completely new. A new architecture, new cities, a new poetry, almost a new language, a new kind of government—ultimately the modern world.
It was derivative in that the shock, the revelation, which produced it, was the return of something allied to the French blood, something rooted in the French memory. Rome surviving or risen had made that Italy, which was now beginning to trouble the Alps, and would surely creep in by every channel of influence, and at last pervade all Europe. Rome, also, in her full vigour, had once framed and ordered Gaul. The French of the Renaissance were woken suddenly, but as they started they recognized the face and the hand of the awakener.
On this account you will find one mind indeed at the very beginning of the change in letters, but not a dominating mind. There is but one man who is certainly an origin, but he is not a master. You see an unique and single personality, distinct but without force, founding no school—the grave, abiding, kind but covert face of Charles of Orleans. He, linked to the French Renaissance, is like the figure of a gentle friend playing in some garden with a child whose manners are new and pleasing to him, but of whose great destiny he makes no guess. That child was to be Du Bellay, Brantome, Montaigne a hundred-sided, huge Rabelais, Ronsard. Or perhaps this metaphor will put it better. To say that Charles of Orleans's equal and persistent music was like a string harped on distinctly in a chorus of flutes and hautboys, till one by one harps from here and there caught up the similar tang of chords and at last the whole body of sound was harping only.
His life was suited to such difference and such origination. Italy, still living, filled him. An Italian secretary wrote from his mouth the most sumptuous of his manuscripts. He banded on Italy as a goal and his Italian land as a legacy to the French crown—to his own son; till (years after his death) the soldiers roared through Briancon and broke the crusted snow of Mont Genevre. An Italian mother, the most beautiful of the Viscontis, come out of Italy, rich in her land of Asti and her half million of pure gold, had borne him in her youth to the King of France's brother: a man luxurious, over fine, exact in taste, a lover of magnificence in stories and words, decadent in a dying time, very brave. Through that father the Valois blood, unjustly hated or still more unjustly despised according to the varied ignorance of modern times, ran in him nobly.
Take the Valois strain entire and you will find the pomp or rather the fantasy of their great palace of St. Paul; turrets and steep blue roofs of slate, carved woodwork, heavy curtains, and incense and shining bronze. The Valois were, indeed, the end of the middle ages. Some cruelty, a fury in battle, intelligence and madness alternately, and always a sort of keenness which becomes now revenge, now foresight, now intrigue, now strict and terrible government: at last a wild adventure out beyond the hills: Fornovo, Pavia.
Their story is like the manuscripts, which beyond all other things they loved and collected, and which they were the last to possess or to have made; for while it contains in vivid pictures the noblest and the basest subjects: (Joan of Arc and also her betrayal, their country dominant and almost engulfed, Marigano, and then again Pavia) it always glitters with hard enamelled colours against skies of gold, and is drawn and sharp and clean as a thing can be.
Such is the whole line, but look at this one Valois and you see all the qualities of his race toned by a permanent sadness down to a good and even temper, not hopeful but still delighting in beauty and possessed as no other Valois had been of charity. Less passionate and therefore much less eager and useful than most of his race, yet the taint of madness never showed in him, nor the corresponding evil of cruelty, nor the uncreative luxury of his immediate ancestry. All the Valois were poets in their kind; his life by its every accident caused him to write. At fifteen they wedded him to that lovely child whom Richard II had lifted in his arms at Windsor as he rode out in fatal pomp for Ireland. Three years later, when their marriage was real, she died in childbirth, and it is to her I think that he wrote in his prison the ballad which ends:
Dieu sur tout souverain seigneur Ordonnez par grace et douceur De l'ame d'elle tellement Qu'elle ne soit pas longuement En peine souci et douleur.
Already, in the quarrel that so nearly wrecked the crown, the anti-national factions had killed his father. He was planning vengeance, engraving little mottoes of hate upon his silver, when the wars came on them all. A boy of twenty-four, well-horsed, much more of a soldier than he later seemed, he charged, leading the centre of the three tall troops at Agincourt. In the evening of that disaster they pulled him out from under a great heap of the ten thousand dead and brought him prisoner into England, to Windsor then to Pomfret Castle. Chatterton, Cobworth, at last John Cornwall, of Fanhope, were his guardians. To some one of these—probably the last—he wrote the farewell:
Mon tres bon hote et ma tres douce hotesse.
For his life as a prisoner, though melancholy, was not undignified; he paid no allegiance, he met the men of his own rank, nor was he of a kind to whom poverty, the chief thorn of his misfortune, brought dishonour.
Henry V had left it strictly in his will that Orleans the general and the head of the French nationals should not return. For twenty-five years, therefore—all his manhood—he lived under this sky, rhyming and rhyming: in English a little, in French continually, and during that isolation there swept past him far off in his own land the defence, the renewal, the triumph of his own blood: his town relieved, his cousin crowned at Rheims. His river of Loire, and then the Eure, and then the Seine, and even the field where he had fallen were reconquered. Willoughby had lost Paris to Richemont four years before Charles of Orleans was freed on a ransom of half his mother's fortune. It was not until the November of 1440 that he saw his country-side again.
The verse formed in that long endurance (a style which he preserved to the end in the many poems after his release) may seem at a first reading merely mediaeval. There is wholly lacking in it the riot of creation, nor can one see at first the Renaissance coming in with Charles of Orleans.
Indeed it was laid aside as mediaeval, and was wholly forgotten for three hundred years. No one had even heard of him for all those centuries till Sallier, that learned priest, pacing, full of his Hebrew and Syriac, the rooms of the royal library which Louis XV had but lately given him to govern, found the manuscript of the poems and wrote an essay on them for the Academy.
The verse is full of allegory; it is repetitive; it might weary one with the savour of that unhappy fifteenth century when the human mind lay under oppression, and only the rich could speak their insignificant words; a foreigner especially might find it all dry bones, but his judgement would be wrong. Charles of Orleans has a note quite new and one that after him never failed, but grew in volume and in majesty until it filled the great chorus of the Pleiade—the Lyrical note of direct personal expression. Perhaps the wars produced it in him; the lilt of the marching songs was still spontaneous:
Gentil Duc de Lorraine, vous avez grand renom, Et votre renommee passe au dela des monts Et vous et vos gens d'arme, et tous vos compagnons Au premier coup qu'ils frappent, abattent les Donjons. Tirez, tirez bombardes, serpentines, Canons!
Whatever the cause, this spontaneity and freshness run through all the mass of short and similar work which he wrote down.
The spring and sureness, the poise of these light nothings make them a flight of birds.
See how direct is this:
Dieu! qu'il la fait bon regarder! La gracieuse, bonne et belle.
Le lendemain du premier jour de Mai Dedans mon lit ainsi que je dormoye Au point du jour advint que je sonjeay.
Everywhere his words make tunes for themselves and everywhere he himself appears in his own verses, simple, charming, slight, but with memories of government and of arms.
This style well formed, half his verse written, he returned to his own place. He was in middle age—a man of fifty. He married soberly enough Mary of Cleves, ugly and young: he married her in order to cement the understanding with Burgundy. She did not love him with his shy florid face, long neck and features and mild eyes. His age for twenty-five years passed easily, he had reached his "castle of No Care." As late as 1462 his son (Louis XII) was born; his two daughters at long intervals before. His famous library moved with him as he went from town to town, and perpetually from himself and round him from his retinue ran the continual stream of verse which only ended with his death. His very doctor he compelled to rhyme.
All the singers of the time visited or remained with him—wild Villon for a moment, and after Villon a crowd of minor men. It was in such a company that he recited the last ironical but tender song wherein he talks of his lost youth and vigour and ends by bidding all present a salute in the name of his old age.
So he sat, half regal, holding a court of song in Blois and Tours, a forerunner in verse of what the new time was to build in stone along the Loire. And it was at Amboise that he died.
(The 57th Ballade of those written during his imprisonment.)
There is some dispute in the matter, but I will believe, as I have said, that this dead Princess, for whose soul he prays, was certainly the wife of his boyhood, a child whom Richard II had wed just before that Lancastrian usurpation which is the irreparable disaster of English history. She was, I say, a child—a widow in name—when Charles of Orleans, himself in that small royal clique which was isolated and shrivelling, married her as a mere matter of state. It is probable that he grew to love her passionately, and perhaps still more her memory when she had died in child-bed during those first years, even before Agincourt, "en droicte fleur de jeunesse,"—for even here he is able to find an exact and sufficient line.
There is surely to be noted in this delicate ballad, something more native and truthful in its pathos than in the very many complaints he left by way partly of reminiscence, partly of poetic exercise. For, though he is restrained, as was the manner of his rank when they attempted letters, yet you will not read it often without getting in you a share of its melancholy.
That melancholy you can soon discover to be as permanent a quality in the verse as it was in the mind of the man who wrote it.
Las! Mort qui t'a fait si hardie, De prendre la noble Princesse Qui estoit mon confort, ma vie, Mon bien, mon plaisir, ma richesse! Puis que tu as prins ma maistresse, Prens moy aussi son serviteur, Car j'ayme mieulx prouchainement Mourir que languir en tourment En paine, soussi et doleur.
Las! de tous biens estoit garnie Et en droite fleur de jeunesse! Je pry a Dieu qu'il te maudie, Faulse Mort, plaine de rudesse! Se prise l'eusses en vieillesse, Ce ne fust pas si grant rigueur; Mais prise l'as hastivement Et m'as laissie piteusement En paine, soussi et doleur.
Las! je suis seul sans compaignie! Adieu ma Dame, ma liesse! Or est nostre amour departie, Non pour tant, je vous fais promesse Que de prieres, a largesse, Morte vous serviray de cueur, Sans oublier aucunement; Et vous regretteray souvent En paine, soussi et doleur.
Dieu, sur tout souverain Seigneur, Ordonnez, par grace et doulceur, De l'ame d'elle, tellement Qu'elle ne soit pas longuement En paine, soussi et doleur.
THE TWO ROUNDELS OF SPRING. (The 41st and 43rd of the "Rondeaux.")
These two Rondeaux, of which we may also presume, though very vaguely, that they were written in England (for they are in the manner of his earlier work), are by far the most famous of the many things he wrote; and justly, for they have all these qualities.
First, they are exact specimens of their style. The Roundel should interweave, repeat itself, and then recover its original strain, and these two exactly give such unified diversity.
Secondly: they were evidently written in a moment of that unknown power when words suggest something fuller than their own meaning, and in which simplicity itself broadens the mind of the reader. So that it is impossible to put one's finger upon this or that and say this adjective, that order of the words has given the touch of vividness.
Thirdly: they have in them still a living spirit of reality; read them to-day in Winter, and you feel the Spring. It is this quality perhaps which most men have seized in them, and which have deservedly made them immortal.
A further character which has added to their fame, is that, being perfect lyrics, they are also specimens of an old-fashioned manner and metre peculiar to the time. They are the resurrection not only of the Spring, but of a Spring of the fifteenth century. Nor is it too fantastic to say that one sees in them the last miniatures and the very dress of a time that was intensely beautiful, and in which Charles of Orleans alone did not feel death coming.
THE TWO ROUNDELS OF SPRING.
Les fourriers d'Este sont venus Pour appareillier son logis, Et ont fait tendre ses tappis, De fleurs et verdure tissus. En estandant tappis velus De verte herbe par le pais, Les fourriers d'Este sont venus Pour appareillier son logis. Cueurs d'ennuy pieca morfondus, Dieu merci, sont sains et jolis; Alez vous en, prenez pais, Yver vous ne demourrez plus; Les fourriers d'Este sont venus.
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 chant 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.
HIS LOVE AT MORNING. (The 6th of the "Songs".)
In this delightful little song the spontaneity and freshness which saved his work, its vigour and its clarity are best preserved.
It does indeed defy death and leaps four centuries: it is young and perpetual. It thrills with something the failing middle ages had forgotten: it reaches what they never reached, a climax, for one cannot put too vividly the flash of the penultimate line, "I am granted a vision when I think of her."
Yet it was written in later life, and who she was, or whether she lived at all, no one knows.
HIS LOVE AT MORNING.
Dieu qu'il la fait bon regarder La gracieuse bonne et belle! Pour les grans biens qui sont en elle, Chascun est prest de la louer Qui se pourroit d'elle lasser! Tousjours sa beaulte renouvelle. Dieu, qu'il la fait bon regarder, La gracieuse, bonne et belle! Par deca, ne dela la mer, Ne scay Dame ne Damoiselle Qui soit en tous biens parfais telle; C'est un songe que d'y penser. Dieu, qu'il la fait bon regarder!
THE FAREWELL. (The 310th Roundel.)
Here is the last thing—we may presume—that Charles of Orleans ever wrote: "Salute me all the company, I pray."
In that "company", not only the Court at Amboise, but the men of the early wars, his companions, were round him, and the dead friends of his gentle memory.
He was broken with age; he was already feeling the weight of isolation from the Royal Family; he was beginning to suffer the insults of the king. But, beneath all this, his gaiety still ran like a river under ice, and in the ageing of a poet, humour and physical decline combined make a good, human thing.
There is an excellent irony in the refrain: "Salute me, all the company," whose double interpretation must not be missed, though it may seem far-fetched.
Till the last line it means, without any question, "Salute the company in my name," but I think there runs through it also, the hint of "Salute me for my years, all you present who are young," and that this certainly is the note in the last line of all. It must be remembered of the French, that they never expand or explain their ironical things, for in art it is their nature to detest excess.
This last thing of his, then, I say, is the most characteristic of him and of his Valois blood, and of the national spirit in general to which he belonged: for he, and it, and they, loved and love contrast, and the extra-meaning of words.
Saluez moy toute la compaignie Ou a present estes a chiere lie, Et leur dictes que voulentiers seroye Avecques eulx, mais estre n'y porroye, Pour Vieillesse qui m'a en sa baillie. Au temps passe, Jeunesse si jolie Me gouvernoit; las! or n'y suis je mye, Et pour cela pour Dieu, que excuse soye; Saluez moy toute la compaignie Ou a present estes a chiere lie, Et leur dictes que voulentiers seroye. Amoureux fus, or ne le suis je mye, Et en Paris menoye bonne vie; Adieu Bon temps ravoir ne vous saroye, Bien sangle fus d'une estroite courroye. Que, par Aige, convient que la deslie. Saluez moy toute la compaignie.
I have said that in Charles of Orleans the middle ages are at first more apparent than the advent of the Renaissance. His forms are inherited from an earlier time, his terminology is that of the long allegories which had wearied three generations, his themes recall whatever was theatrical in the empty pageantry of the great war. It is a spirit deeper and more fundamental than the mere framework of his writing which attaches him to the coming time. His clarity is new; it proceeds from natural things; it marks that return to reality which is the beginning of all beneficent revolutions. But this spirit in him needs examination and discovery, and the reader is confused between the mediaeval phrases and the something new and troubling in the voice that utters them.
With Villon, the next in order, a similar confusion might arise. All about him as he wrote were the middle ages: their grotesque, their contrast, their disorder. His youth and his activity of blood forbad him any contact with other than immediate influences. He was wholly Northern; he had not so much as guessed at what Italy might be. The decrepit University had given him, as best she could, the dregs of her palsied philosophy and something of Latin. He grew learned as do those men who grasp quickly the major lines of their study, but who, in details, will only be moved by curiosity or by some special affection. There was nothing patient in him, and nothing applied, and in all this, in the matter of his scholarship as in his acquirement of it, he is of the dying middle ages entirely.
His laughter also was theirs: the kind of laughter that saluted the first Dance of Death which as a boy he had seen in new frescoes round the waste graveyard of the Innocents. His friends and enemies and heroes and buffoons were the youth of the narrow tortuous streets, his visions of height were the turrets of the palaces and the precipitate roofs of the town. Distance had never inspired him, for in that age its effect was forgotten. No one straight street displayed the greatness of the city, no wide and ordered spaces enhanced it. He crossed his native river upon bridges all shut in with houses, and houses hid the banks also. The sweep of the Seine no longer existed for his generation, and largeness of all kinds was hidden under the dust and rubble of decay. The majestic, which in sharp separate lines of his verse he certainly possessed, he discovered within his own mind, for no great arch or cornice, nor no colonnade had lifted him with its splendour.
That he could so discover it, that a solemnity and order should be apparent in the midst of his raillery whenever he desires to produce an effect of the grand, leads me to speak of that major quality of his by which he stands up out of his own time, and is clearly an originator of the great renewal. I mean his vigour.
It is all round about him, and through him, like a storm in a wood. It creates, it perceives. It possesses the man himself, and us also as we read him. By it he launches his influence forward and outward rather than receives it from the past. To it his successors turn, as to an ancestry, when they had long despised and thrown aside everything else that savoured of the Gothic dead. By it he increased in reputation and meaning from his boyhood on for four hundred years, till now he is secure among the first lyric poets of Christendom. It led to no excess of matter, but to an exuberance of attitude and manner, to an inexhaustibility of special words, to a brilliancy of impression unique even among his own people.
He was poor; he was amative; he was unsatisfied. This vigour, therefore, led in his actions to a mere wildness; clothed in this wildness the rare fragments of his life have descended to us. He professed to teach, but he haunted taverns, and loved the roaring of songs. He lived at random from his twentieth year in one den or another along the waterside. Affection brought him now to his mother, now to his old guardian priest, but not for long; he returned to adventure—such as it was. He killed a man, was arrested, condemned, pardoned, exiled; he wandered and again found Paris, and again—it seems—stumbled down his old lane of violence and dishonour.
Associated also with this wildness is a curious imperfection in our knowledge of him. His very name is not his own—or any other man's. His father, if it were his father, took his name from Mont-Corbier—half noble. Villon is but a little village over beyond the upper Yonne, near the division, within a day of the water-parting where the land falls southward to Burgundy and the sun in what they call "The Slope of Gold." From this village a priest, William, had come to Paris in 1423. They gave him a canonry in that little church called "St. Bennets Askew," which stood in the midst of the University, near Sorbonne, where the Rue des Ecoles crosses the Rue St. Jacques to-day. Hither, to his house in the cloister, he brought the boy, a waif whom he had found much at the time when Willoughby capitulated and the French recaptured the city. He had him taught, he designed him for the University, he sheltered him in his vagaries, he gave him asylum. The young man took his name and called him "more than father." His anxious life led on to 1468, long after the poet had disappeared.
For it is in 1461, in his thirtieth year, that Villon last writes down a verse. It is in 1463 that his signature is last discovered. Then not by death or, if by death, then by some death unrecorded, he leaves history abruptly—a most astonishing exit!... You may pursue fantastic legends, you will not find the man himself again. Some say a final quarrel got him hanged at last—it is improbable: no record or even tradition of it remains. Rabelais thought him a wanderer in England. Poitou preserves a story of his later passage through her fields, of how still he drank and sang with boon companions, and of how, again, he killed a man.... Maybe, he only ceased to write; took to teaching soberly in the University, and lived in a decent inheritance to see new splendours growing upon Europe. It may very well be, for it is in such characters to desire in early manhood decency, honour, and repose. But for us the man ends with his last line. His body that was so very real, his personal voice, his jargon—tangible and audible things—spread outward suddenly a vast shadow upon nothingness. It was the end, also, of a world. The first Presses were creaking, Constantinople had fallen, Greek was in Italy, Leonardo lived, the stepping stones of the Azores were held—in that new light he disappears.
* * * * *
Of his greatness nothing can be said; it is like the greatness of all the chief poets, a thing too individual to seize in words. It is superior and exterior to the man. Genius of that astounding kind has all the qualities of an extraneous thing. A man is not answerable for it. It is nothing to his salvation; it is little even to his general character. It has been known to come and go, to be put off and on like a garment, to be lent by Heaven and taken away, a capricious gift.
But of the manner of that genius it may be noted that, as his vigour prepared the flood of new verse, so in another matter his genius made him an origin. Through him first, the great town—and especially Paris—appeared and became permanent in letters.
Her local spirit and her special quality had shone fitfully here and there for a thousand years—you may find it in Julian, in Abbo, in Joinville. But now, in the fifteenth century, it had been not only a town but a great town for more than a century—a town, that is, in which men live entirely, almost ignorant of the fields, observing only other men, and forgetting the sky. The keen edge of such a life, its bitterness, the mockery and challenge whereby its evils are borne, its extended knowledge, the intensity of its spirit—all these are reflected in Villon, and first reflected in him. Since his pen first wrote, a shining acerbity like the glint of a sword-edge has never deserted the literature of the capital.
It was not only the metropolitan, it was the Parisian spirit which Villon found and fixed. That spirit which is bright over the whole city, but which is not known in the first village outside; the influence that makes Paris Athenian.
The ironical Parisian soul has depths in it. It is so lucid that its luminous profundity escapes one—so with Villon. Religion hangs there. Humility—fatally divorced from simplicity—pervades it. It laughs at itself. There are ardent passions of sincerity, repressed and reacting upon themselves. The virtues, little practised, are commonly comprehended, always appreciated, for the Faith is there permanent. All this you will find in Villon, but it is too great a matter for so short an essay as this.
THE DEAD LADIES.
It is difficult or impossible to compare the masterpieces of the world. It is easy and natural to take the measure of a particular writer and to establish a scale of his work.
Villon is certainly in the small first group of the poets. His little work, like that of Catullus, like that of Gray, is up, high, completed and permanent. And within that little work this famous Ballade is by far the greatest thing.
It contains all his qualities: not in the ordinary proportion of his character, but in that better, exact proportion which existed in him when his inspiration was most ardent: for the poem has underlying it somewhere a trace of his irony, it has all his ease and rapidity—excellent in any poet—and it is carried forward by that vigour I have named, a force which drives it well upwards and forward to its foaming in the seventh line of the third verse.
The sound of names was delightful to him, and he loved to use it; he had also that character of right verse, by which the poet loves to put little separate pictures like medallions into the body of his writing: this Villon loved, as I shall show in other examples, and he has it here.
The end of the middle ages also is strongly in this appeal or confession of mortality; their legends, their delicacy, their perpetual contemplation of death.
But of all the Poem's qualities, its run of words is far the finest.
THE DEAD LADIES.
Dictes moy ou, n'en quel pays Est Flora la belle Rommaine; Archipiada, ne Thais, Qui fut sa cousine germaine; Echo, parlant quand bruyt on maine Dessus riviere ou sus estan, Qui beaulte ot trop plus qu'humaine? Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?
Ou est la tres sage Hellois, Pour qui fut chastre et puis moyne Pierre Esbaillart a Saint-Denis? Pour son amour ot cest essoyne. Semblablement, ou est la royne Qui commanda que Buridan Fust gecte en ung sac en Saine? Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan!
La Royne Blanche comme un lis, Qui chantoit a voix de seraine; Berte au grant pie Bietris, Allis; Haremburgis qui tint le Maine, Et Jehanne, la bonne Lorraine, Qu'Englois brulerent a Rouan; Ou sont elles, Vierge souvraine? Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan!
Prince, n'enquerez de sepmaine Ou elles sont, ne de cest an, Que ce reffrain ne vous remaine: Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan!
AN EXCERPT FROM THE GRANT TESTAMENT. (Stanzas 75-79.)
Villon's whole surviving work is in the form of two rhymed wills—one short, one long: and in the latter, Ballads and Songs are put in each in their place, as the tenour of the verse suggests them.
Thus the last Ballade, that of the "Dead Ladies," comes after a couple of strong stanzas upon the necessity of death—and so forth.
One might choose any passage, almost, out of the mass to illustrate the character of this "Testament" in which the separate poems are imbedded. I have picked those round about the 800th line, the verses in which he is perhaps least brilliant and most tender.
AN EXCERPT FROM THE GRANT TESTAMENT.
Premier je donne ma povre ame A la benoiste Trinite, Et la commande a Nostre Dame Chambre de la divinite; Priant toute la charite Des dignes neuf Ordres des cieulx, Que par eulx soit ce don porte Devant le trosne precieux.
Item, mon corps je donne et laisse A notre grant mere la terre; Les vers n'y trouveront grant gresse: Trop luy a fait faim dure guerre. Or luy soit delivre grant erre: De terre vint, en terre tourne. Toute chose, se par trop n'erre, Voulentiers en son lieu retourne;
Item, et a mon plus que pere Maistre Guillaume de Villon Qui m'este a plus doulx que mere, Enfant esleve de maillon, Degete m'a de maint boullon Et de cestuy pas ne s'esjoye Et luy requiers a genoullon Qu'il n'en laisse toute la joye.
Je luy donne ma Librairie Et le Romman du Pet au Deable Lequel Maistre Guy Tabarie Grossa qui est homs veritable. Por cayers est soubz une table, Combien qu'il soit rudement fait La matiere est si tres notable, Q'elle amende tout le mesfait.
Item donne a ma povre mere Pour saluer nostre Maistresse, Qui pour moy ot doleur amere Dieu le scet, et mainte tristesse; Autre Chastel n'ay ni fortresse Ou me retraye corps et ame Quand sur moy court malle destresse Ne ma mere, la povre femme!
THE BALLADE OF OUR LADY. (Written by Villon for his mother.)
The abrupt ending of the last extract, the 79th stanza of the "Grant Testament"—"I give..." and then no objective (apparently) added—is an excellent example of the manner in which the whole is conceived and of the way in which the separate poems are pieced into the general work.
What "he gives..." to his mother is this "Ballade of our Lady," written, presumably, long before the "will" and put in here and thus after being carefully led up to.
These thirty-seven lines are more famous in their own country than abroad. They pour from the well of a religion which has not failed in the place where Villon wrote, and they present that religion in a manner peculiar and national.
Apart from its piety and its exquisite tenderness, two qualities of Villon are to be specially found in this poem: his vivid phrase, such as:
"Emperiere des infernaux paluz,"
(a discovery of which he was so proud that he repeated it elsewhere) or:
"sa tres chiere jeunesse."
And secondly the curiously processional effect of the metre and of the construction of the stanzas—the extra line and the extra foot lend themselves to a chaunt in their balanced slow rhythm, as any one can find for himself by reading the lines to some church sing-song as he goes.
THE BALLADE OF OUR LADY.
Dame des cieulx, regente terrienne, Emperiere des infernaux paluz, Recevez moy, vostre humble chrestienne, Que comprinse soye entre vos esleuz, Ce non obstant qu'oncques rien ne valuz. Les biens de vous, ma dame et ma maistresse, Sont trop plus grans que ne suis pecheresse, Sans lesquelz biens ame ne peut merir N'avoir les cieulx, je n'en suis jungleresse. En ceste foi je veuil vivre et mourir.
A vostre fils dicte que je suis sienne; De luy soyent mes pechiez aboluz: Pardonne moy, comme a l'Egipcienne, Ou comme il feist au clerc Theophilus, Lequel par vous fut quitte et absoluz, Combien qu'il eust au Deable fait promesse. Preservez moy, que ne face jamais ce Vierge portant, sans rompure encourir Le sacrement qu'on celebre a la messe. En ceste foy je veuil vivre et mourir.
Femme je suis povrette et ancienne Qui riens ne scay; oncques lettre ne leuz; Au moustier voy dont suis paroissienne Paradis faint, ou sont harpes et luz, Et ung enfer ou dampnez sont boulluz: L'ung me fait paour, l'autre joye et liesse. La joye avoir me fay, haulte Deesse, A qui pecheurs doivent tous recourir, Comblez de Foy, sans fainte ne paresse. En ceste foy je veuil vivre et mourir.
Vous portastes, digne vierge, princesse, Jesus regnant, qui n'a ne fin ne cesse. Le Tout Puissant, prenant notre foiblesse, Laissa les cieulx et nous vint secourir, Offrit a mort sa tres chiere jeunesse. Nostre Seigneur tel est, tel le confesse, En ceste foy je veuil vivre et mourir.
THE DEAD LORDS.
As I have not wished to mix up smaller things with greater I have put this ballade separate from that of "the Ladies," though it directly follows it as an after-thought in Villon's own book. For the former is one of the masterpieces of the world, and this, though very Villon, is not great.
What it has got is the full latter mediaeval love of odd names and reminiscences, and also to the full, the humour of the scholarly tavern, which was the "Mermaid" of that generation: as the startling regret of:
Helas! et le bon roy d'Espaigne Duquel je ne scay pas le nom....
and the addition, after the false exit of "je me desiste".
Encore fais une question
He laughed well over it, and was perhaps not thirsty when it was written.
THE DEAD LORDS.
Qui plus? Ou est le Tiers Calixte Dernier decede de ce nom, Qui quatre ans tint le papaliste? Alphonce, le roy d'Arragon, Le Gracieux Duc de Bourbon, Et Artus, le Duc de Bretaigne, Et Charles Septiesme, le Bon?.... Mais ou est le preux Charlemaigne!
Semblablement le roy Scotiste Qui demy face ot, ce dit on, Vermeille comme une amatiste Depuis le front jusqu'au menton? Le roy de Chippre, de renom? Helas! et le bon roy d'Espaigne Duquel je ne scay pas le nom?... Mais ou est le preux Charlemaigne!
D'en plus parler je me desiste Le monde n'est qu'abusion. Il n'est qui contre mort resiste Le que treuve provision. Encor fais une question: Lancelot, le roy de Behaigne, Ou est il? Ou est son tayon?.... Mais ou est le preux Charlemaigne!
Ou est Claguin, le bon Breton? Ou le conte daulphin d'Auvergne Et le bon feu Duc d'Alencon?... Mais ou est le preux Charlemaigne!
This is the best ending for any set of verses one may choose out of Villon. It follows and completes the epitaph which in his will he orders to be written in charcoal—or scratched—above his tomb: the sad, sardonic octave of "the little scholar and poor." It is a kind of added dirge to be read by those who pass and to be hummed or chaunted over him dead. But it is a rondeau.
See how sharp it is with the salt and vinegar of his pressed courageous smile—and how he cannot run away from his religion or from his power over sudden and vivid beauty.
"Sire—et clarte perpetuelle"—which last are the best two words that ever stood in the vulgar for lux perpetua.
It is no wonder that as time went on, more and more people learnt these things by heart.
Repos eternel, donne a cil, Sire, et clarte perpetuelle, Qui vaillant plat ni escuelle N'eut oncques, n'ung brain de percil. Il fut rez, chief, barbe et sourcil, Comme un navet qu'on ret ou pelle. Repos eternel donne a cil. Rigueur le transmit en exil Et luy frappa au cul la pelle, Non obstant qu'il dit "J'en appelle!" Qui n'est pas terme trop subtil. Repos eternel donne a cil.
If in Charles of Orleans the first note of the French Renaissance is heard, if in Villon you find first its energy appearing above ground, yet both are forerunners only.
With Marot one is in the full tide of the movement. The discovery of America had preceded his birth by three or perhaps four years. His early manhood was filled with all that ferment, all that enormous branching out of human life, which was connected with the expansion of Spain; he was in the midst of the scarlet and the gold. A man just of age when Luther was first condemned, living his active manhood through the experience of the great battlefields in Italy, wounded (a valet rather than a soldier) at Pavia, the perpetual chorus of Francis I., privileged to witness the first stroke of the pickaxe against the mediaeval Louvre, and to see the first Italian dignity of the great stone houses on the Loire—being all this, the Renaissance was the stuff on which his life was worked.
His blood and descent were typical enough of the work he had to do. His own father was one of the last set rhymers of the dying Middle Ages. All his boyhood was passed among that multitude of little dry "writers-down of verse" with which, in Paris, the Middle Ages died; they were not a swarm, for they were not living; they were a heap of dust. All his early work is touched with the learned, tedious, unbeautiful industry which was all that the elder men round Louis XII could bring to letters. By a happy accident there were mixed in him, however, two vigorous springs of inspiration, each ready to receive the new forces that were working in Europe, each destined to take the fullest advantage of the new time. These springs were first, learned Normandy, quiet, legal, well-founded, deep in grass, wealthy; and secondly, the arid brilliancy of the South: Quency and the country round Cahors. His father was a Norman pure bred, who had come down and married into that sharp land where the summer is the note of the whole year, and where the traveller chiefly remembers vineyards, lizards on the walls, short shadows, sleep at noon, and blinding roads of dust. The first years of his childhood were spent in the southern town, so that the south entered into him thoroughly. The language that he never wrote, the Languedoc, was that, perhaps, in which he thought during all his life. It was his mother's.
It has been noticed by all his modern readers, it will be noticed probably with peculiar force by English readers, that the fame of Marot during his lifetime and his historical position as the leader of the Renaissance has in it something exaggerated and false. One cannot help a perpetual doubt as to whether the religious quarrel, the influence of the Court, the strong personal friendships and enmities which surrounded him had not had more to do with his reputation than his faculty, or even his genius, for rhyme. Whenever he wanted L100 he asked it of the King with the grave promise that he would bestow upon him immortality.
From Ronsard, or from Du Bellay, we, here in the north, could understand that phrase; from Marot it carries a flavour of the grotesque. Ready song, indeed, and a great power over the material one uses in singing last indefinitely; they last as long as the sublime or the terrible in literature, but we forbear to associate with them—perhaps unjustly—the conception of greatness. If indeed anyone were to maintain that Marot was not an excellent and admirable poet he would prove himself ignorant of the language in which Marot wrote, but let the most sympathetic turn to what is best in his verse, let them turn for instance to that charming lyric: "A sa Dame Malade" or to "The Ballad of Old Time," or even to that really large and riotous chorus of the vine, and they will see that it is the kind of thing which is amplified by music, and which sometimes demands the aid of music to appear at all. They will see quite plainly that Marot took pleasure in playing with words and arranged them well, felt keenly and happily, played a full lyre, but they will doubt whether poetry was necessarily for him the most serious business of life.
Why, then, has he taken the place claimed for him, and why is he firmly secure in the place of master of the ceremonies, as it were, to that glorious century whose dawn he enjoyed and helped to beautify?
I will explain it.
It is because he is national. He represents not what is most this, or most that—"highest", "noblest", "truest", "best", and all the rest of it—in his countrymen, but rather what they have most in common.
Did you meet him to-day in the Strand you would know at once that you had to do with a Frenchman, and, probably, with a kind of poet.
He was short, square in the shoulders, tending in middle age to fatness. A dark hair and beard; large brown eyes of the south; a great, rounded, wrinkled forehead like Verlaine's; a happy mouth, a nose very insignificant, completed him. When we meet somewhere, under cypress trees at last, these great poets of a better age, and find Ronsard a very happy man, Du Bellay, a gentleman; then Malherbe, for all that he was a northerner, we may mistake, if we find him, for a Catalonian. Villon, however Parisian, will appear the Bohemian that many cities have produced; Charles of Orleans may seem at first but one of that very high nobility remnants of which are still to be discovered in Europe. But when we see Marot, our first thought will certainly be, as I have said, that we have come across a Frenchman; and the more French for a touch of the commonplace.
See how French was the whole career!
Whatever is new attracts him. The reformation attracts him. It was chic to have to do with these new things. He had the French ignorance of what was foreign and alien; the French curiosity to meddle with it because it had come from abroad; the French passion for opposing, for struggling;—and beneath it all the large French indifference to the problem of evil (or whatever you like to call it), the changeless French content in certitude, upon which ease, indeed, as upon a rock, the Church of Gaul has permanently stood and will continuously repose.
He has been a sore puzzle to the men who have never heard of these things. Calvin (that appalling exception who had nothing in him of France except lucidity) could make neither head nor tail of him. Geneva was glad enough to chaunt through the nose his translations of the Psalms, but it was woefully puzzled at his salacity, and the town was very soon too hot to hold him in his exile. And as for the common, partial, and ignorant histories of France, written in our tongue, they generally make him a kind of backslider, who might have been a Huguenot (and—who knows?—have thrown the Sacrament to beasts with the best of them) save that, unhappily, he did not persevere. Whatever they say of him (and some have hardly heard of him) one thing is quite certain: that they do not understand him, and that if they did they would like him still less than they do.
He was national in the rapidity of the gesture of his mind as in that of his body: in his being attracted here and there, watching this and that suddenly, like a bird.
He was national in his power of sharp recovery from any emotion back into his normal balance.
He was national in that he depended upon companions, and stood for a crowd, and deplored all isolation. He was national in that he had nothing strenuous about him, and that he was amiable, and if he had heard of "earnest" men, he would have laughed at them a little, as people who did not see the whole of life.
He was especially national (and it is here that the poet returns) in that most national of all things—a complete sympathy with the atmosphere of the native tongue. Thus men debate a good deal upon the poetic value of Wordsworth, but it is certain, when one sees how bathed he is in the sense of English words, their harmony and balance, that the man is entirely English, that no other nation could have produced him, and that he will be most difficult for foreigners to understand. You will not translate into French or any other language the simplicity of:
"Glimpses that should make me less forlorn."
Nor can you translate, so as to give its own kind of grandeur
"Et arrivoit pour benistre la vigne."
Apart from his place in letters, see how national he is in what he does!
He buys two bits of land, he talks of them continually, sees to them, visits them. They are quite little bits of land. He calls one Clement, and the other Marot! Here is a whimsicality you would not find, I think, among another people.
He has the hatred of "sprawling" in his particular art which is the chief aesthetic character of the French; but he has the tendency to excess in opinion or in general expression which is their chief political fault.
It is thus, then, that I think he should be regarded and that I would desire to present him. It is thus, I am sure, that he should be read if one is to know why he has taken so great a place in the reverence and the history of the French people.
And it is in this aspect that he may worthily introduce much greater things, the Pleiade and Ronsard.
OF COURTING LONG AGO. (The Eighth of the Roundels.)
This is a fair enough specimen of Marot at his daily gait: an easy versifier "on a theme" and no more. I have said that it is unjust to judge him on that level, and I have said why; but I give this to give the man as he moved domestically to the admiration of the court and of his friends in a time which missed, for example, the epic character of the last six lines of "Le Beau Tettin," and which hardly comprehended of what value his pure lyric enthusiasms would be to a sadder and drier posterity.
OF COURTING LONG AGO.
Au bon vieulx temps un train d'amour regnoit, Qui sans grand art et dons se demenoit, Si qu'un boucquet donne d'amour profonde S'estoit donne toute la terre ronde: Car seulement au cueur on se prenoit.
Et si, par cas, a jouyr on venoit, Scavez-vous bien comme on s'entretenoit? Vingt ans, trente ans; cela duroit ung monde Au bon vieulx temps.
Or est perdu ce qu'amour ordonnoit, Rien que pleurs fainctz, rien que changes on n'oyt. Qui vouldra donc qu'a aymer je me fonde, Il fault, premier, que l'amour on refonde Et qu'on la meine ainsi qu'on la menoit Au bon vieulx temps.
NOEL. (The Second of the Chansons.)
But here, upon the contrary, is the spontaneity of his happy mind; it suggests a song; one can hardly read it without a tune in one's head, so simple is it and so purely lyrical: there is a touch of the dance in it, too.
In these little things of Marot, which are neither learned (and he boasted of learning) nor set and dry (and his friends especially praised his precision), a great poet certainly appears—in short revelations, but still appears. Unfortunately there are not enough of them.
That he thought "like a Southerner," as I have maintained and as I shall show by a further example, is made the more probable from the value he lends to the feminine e. The excellent rhythm of this poem you will only get by giving the feminine e the value of a drawn out syllable:
"L'effect Est faict: La bel-le Pucel-le," etc.
So Spaniards, Gascons, Provencaux, Italians, rhyme, and all those of the south who have retained their glorious "a's" and "o's".
As for the spirit of it—God bless him!—it is a subject for perpetual merriment to think of such a man's being taken for a true Huguenot and enmeshed, even for a while, in the nasty cobweb of Geneva. But in the last thing I shall quote, when he is Bacchic for the vine, you will see it still more.
Une pastourelle gentille Et ung bergier en ung verger L'autrhyer en jouant a la bille S'entredisoient, pour abreger: Roger Bergier Legiere Bergiere, C'est trop a la bille joue; Chantons Noe, Noe, Noe.
Te souvient-il plus du prophete Qui nous dit cas de si hault faict, Que d'une pucelle parfaicte Naistroit ung enfant tout parfaict? L'effect Est faict: La belle Pucelle A eu ung filz du ciel voue: Chantons Noe, Noe, Noe.
TWO EPIGRAMS. (The 41st of the First Book and the 46th of the Second.)
These two epigrams are again but examples of the readiness, the wit, the hard surface of Marot, and they needed no more poetry than was in Voltaire or Swift, but they needed style. It was this absolute and standard style which his contemporaries chiefly remarked in him: the marvel was, that being mainly such an epigrammatist and scholar, and praised and supported only in that guise, he should have carried in him any, or rather so much, fire.
The first was his reply to a Dixaine the king's sister had sent him. The second explains itself.
Mes creanciers, qui de dixains n'ont cure, Ont leu le vostre; et sur ce leur ay dict: "Sire Michel, sire Bonaventure, La soeur du Roy a pour moy faict ce dit." Lors eulx cuydans que fusse en grand credict, M'ont appele monsieur a cry et cor, Et m'a valu vostre escript aultant qu'or; Car promis m'ont non seulement d'attendre, Mais d'en prester, foy de marchant, encor, Et j'ay promis, foy de Clement, d'en prendre.
Paris, tu m'as faict maints alarmes, Jusque a me poursuivre a la mort: Je n'ay que blasonne tes armes: Un ver, quand on le presse, il mord! Encor la coulpe m'en remord. Ne scay de toy comment sera; Mais de nous deux le diable emport Celuy qui recommencera.
TO HIS LADY IN SICKNESS. (The 16th Epistle.)
It is the way this is printed that makes some miss its value. It is, like all the best he wrote, a song; it needs the varying time of human expression, the effect of tone, the repose and the re-lifting of musical notes; illuminated thus it greatly charmed, and if any one would know the order of such a tune, why, it should follow the punctuation: a cessation at the third line; a rise of rapid accents to the thirteenth, and then a change; the last three lines of the whole very much fuller and strong.
So I would hear it sung on a winter evening in an old house in Auvergne, and re-enter the sixteenth century as I heard.
TO HIS LADY IN SICKNESS.
Ma mignonne, Je vous donne Le bon jour. Le sejour, C'est prison. Guerison Recouvrez, Puis ouvrez Vostre porte Et qu'on sorte Vistement; Car Clement Le vous mande. Va, friande De ta bouche, Qui se couche En danger Pour manger Confitures; Si tu dures Trop malade, Couleur fade Tu prendras Et perdras L'embonpoint. Dieu te doint, Sante bonne, Ma mignonne.
THE VINEYARD SONG. (The 4th of the Chansons.)
Here is Marot's best—even though many of his native critics will not admit it so; but to feel it in full one must be exiled from the vines.
It is a tapestry of the Renaissance; the jolly gods of the Renaissance, the old gods grown Catholic moving across a happier stage. Bacchus in long robes and with solemnity blessing the vine, Silenus and the hobbling smith who smithied the Serpe, the Holy Vineyard Knife in heaven, all these by their diction and their flavour recall the Autumn in Herault and the grapes under a pure sky, pale at the horizon, and labourers and their carts in the vineyard, and these set in the frame of that great time when Saturn did return.
All the poem is wine. It catches its rhymes and weaves them in and in, and moves rapid and careless in a fugue, like the march from Asia when the Panthers went before and drew the car. The internal rhythm and pulse is the clapping of hands in barns at evening and the peasants' feet dancing freely on the beaten earth. It is a very good song; it remembers the treading of the grapes and is refreshed by the mists that rise at evening when the labour is done.
THE VINEYARD SONG.
Changeons propos, c'est trop chante d'amours, Ce sont clamours, chantons de la Serpette, Tous vignerons ont a elle recours, C'est leur secours pour tailler la vignette. O serpilette, o la serpilonnette, La vignolette est par toy mise sus, Dont les bons vins, tous les ans, sont yssus!
Le dieu Vulcain, forgeron des haults dieux, Forgea aux cieulx la serpe bien taillante, De fin acier, trempe en bon vin vieulx, Pour tailler mieulx et estre plus vaillante. Bacchus le vante et dit qu'elle est seante Et convenante a Noe le bonshom Pour en tailler la vigne en la saison.
Bacchus alors chappeau de treille avoit, Et arrivoit pour benistre la vigne; Avec flascons Silenus le suivoit, Lequel beuvoit aussi droict qu'une ligne; Puis il trepigne, et se faict une bigne; Comme une guigne estoit rouge son nez. Beaucoup de gens de sa race sont nez.
If it be true that words create for themselves a special atmosphere, and that their mere sound calls up vague outer things beyond their strict meaning, so it is true that the names of the great poets by their mere sound, by something more than the recollection of their work, produce an atmosphere corresponding to the quality of each; and the name of Ronsard throws about itself like an aureole the characters of fecundity, of leadership, and of fame.
A group of men to which allusion will be made in connection with Du Bellay set out with a programme, developed a determined school, and fixed the literary renaissance of France at its highest point. They steeped themselves in antiquity, and they put to the greatest value it has ever received the name of poet; they demanded that the poet should be a kind of king, or seer. Half seriously, half as a product of mere scholarship, the pagan conception of the muse and of inspiration filled them.
More than that; in their earnest, and, as it seemed at first, artificial work, they formed the French language. Some of its most famous and most familiar words proceed from them—for instance, the word Patrie. Some few of their exotic Greek and Latin adaptations were dropped; the greater part remained. They have excluded from French—as some think to the impoverishment of that language—most elements of the Gothic—the inversion of the adjective, the frequent suppression of the relative, the irregularity of form, which had survived from the Middle Ages, and which make the older French poetry so much more sympathetic to the Englishman than is the new—all these were destroyed by the group of men of whom I speak. They were called by their contemporaries the Pleiade, for they were seven stars.
Now, of these, Ronsard was easily the master. He had that power which our anaemic age can hardly comprehend, of writing, writing, writing, without fear of exhaustion, without irritability or self-criticism, without danger of comparing the better with the worse. Five great volumes of small print, all good—men of that facility never write the really paltry things—all good, and most of it glorious; some of it on the level which only the great poets reach here and there. It is in reading this man who rhymed unceasingly for forty years, who made of poetry an occupation as well as a glory, and who let it fill the whole of his life, that one feels how much such creative power has to do with the value of verse. There is a kind of good humility about it, the humility of a man who does not look too closely at himself, and the health of a soul at full stride, going forward. You may open Ronsard at any page, and find a beauty; you may open any one of the sonnets at random, and in translating it discover that you are compelled to a fine English, because he is saying, plainly, great things. And of these sonnets, note you, he would write thirty at a stretch, and then twenty, and then a second book, with seventy more. So that as one reads one cannot help understanding that Italian who said a man was no poet unless he could rap out a century of sonnets from time to time; and one is reminded of the general vigour of the age and of the way in which art of all sorts was mingled up together, when one remembers the tags of verses, just such verses as these, which are yet to be seen in our galleries set down doubtfully on the margin of their sketches by the great artists of Italy.
Ronsard, with these qualities of a leader, unconscious, as all true leaders are, of the causes of his leadership, and caring, as all true leaders do, for nothing in leadership save the glory it brings with it, had also, as have all leaders, chiefly the power of drawing in a multitude of friends. The peculiar head of his own group, he very soon became the head of all the movement of his day. He had made letters really great in the minds of his contemporaries, and having so made them, appeared before them as a master of those letters. Certainly, as I shall quote him in a moment when I come to his dying speech, he was "satiated with glory."
Yet this man did not in his personality convey that largeness which was his principal mark. His face was narrow, long and aquiline; his health uneven. It was evidently his soul which made men quickly forget the ill-matched case which bore it; for almost alone of the great poets he was consistently happy, and there poured out from him not only this unceasing torrent of verse, but also advice, sustenance, and a kind of secondary inspiration for others.
In yet another matter he was a leader, and a leader of the utmost weight, not the cause, perhaps, but certainly the principal example of the trend which the mind of the nation was taking as the sixteenth century drew to a close. I mean in the matter of religion, upon whose colour every society depends, which is the note even of a national language, and which seems to be the ultimate influence beyond which no historical analysis can carry a thinking man.
But even those who will not admit the truth of this should watch the theory closely, for with the religious trend of France is certainly bound up, and, as I would maintain, on such an influence is dependent, that ultimate setting of the French classic, that winding up of the Renaissance, with which I shall deal in the essay upon Malherbe.
The stream of Catholicism was running true. The nation was tumbling back after a high and turbulent flood into the channel it had scoured for itself by the unbroken energies of a thousand years. It is no accident that Ronsard, that Du Bellay, were churchmen. It is a type. It is a type of the truth that the cloth admitted poets; of the truth that in the great battle whose results yet trouble Europe, here, on the soil where the great questions are fought out, Puritanism was already killed. The epicurean in them both, glad and ready in Ronsard, sombre and Lucretian in Du Bellay, jarred indeed in youth against their vows; but that it should have been tolerated, that it should have led to no excess or angry revolt, was typical of their moment. It was typical, finally, of their generation that all this mixture of the Renaissance with the Church matured at last into its natural fruit, for in the case of Ronsard we have a noble expression of perfect Christianity at the end.
In the November of 1585 he felt death upon him; he had himself borne to his home as soon as the Huguenot bands had left it, ravaged and devastated as it was. He found it burnt and looted, but it reminded him of childhood and of the first springs of his great river of verse. A profound sadness took him. He was but in his sixty-second year, his mind had not felt any chill of age. He could not sleep; poppies and soporifics failed him. He went now in his coach, now on a litter from place to place in that country side which he had rendered famous, and saw the Vendomois for the last time; its cornfields all stubble under a cold and dreary sky. And in each place he waited for a while.
But death troubled him, and he could not remain. Within a fortnight he ordered that they should carry him southward to the Loire, to that priory of which—by a custom of privilege, nobility and royal favour—he was the nominal head, the priory which is "the eye and delight of Touraine",—the Isle of St. Cosmo. He sickened as he went. The thirty miles or so took him three painful days; twice, all his strength failed him, and he lay half fainting in his carriage; to so much energy and to so much power of creation these episodes were an awful introduction of death.
It was upon the 17th of November that he reached the walls wherein he was Superior; six weeks later, on the second day after Christmas, he died.
Were I to describe that scene to which he called the monks, all men of his own birth and training, were I to dwell upon the appearance and the character of the oldest and the wisest, who was also the most famous there, I should extend this essay beyond its true limit, as I should also do were I to write down, even briefly, the account of his just, resigned, and holy death. It must suffice that I transcribe the chief of his last deeds; I mean, that declaration wherein he made his last profession of faith.
The old monk had said to him: "In what resolution do you die?"
He answered, somewhat angrily: "In what did you think? In the religion which was my father's and his father's, and his father's and his father's before him—for I am of that kind."
Then he called all the community round him, as though the monastic simplicity had returned (so vital is the Faith, so simple its primal energies), and as though he had been the true prior of some early and fervent house, he told them these things which I will faithfully translate on account of their beauty. They are printed here, I think, for the first time in English, and must stand for the end of this essay:
He said: "That he had sinned like other men, and, perhaps, more than most; that his senses had led him away by their charm, and that he had not repressed or constrained them as he should; but none the less, he had always held that Faith which the men of his line had left him, he had always clasped close the Creed and the unity of the Catholic Church; that, in fine, he had laid a sure foundation, but he had built thereon with wood, with hay, with straw. As for that foundation, he was sure it would stand; as for the light and worthless things he had built upon it he had trust in the mercy of the Saviour that they would be burnt in the fire of His love. And now he begged them all to believe hard, as he had believed; but not to live as he had lived; they must understand that he had never attempted or plotted against the life or goods of another, nor ever against any man's honour, but, after all, there was nothing therein wherewith to glorify one's self before God." When he had wept a little, he continued, saying, "that the world was a ceaseless turmoil and torment, and shipwreck after shipwreck all the while, and a whirlpool of sins, and tears and pain, and that to all these misfortunes there was but one port, and this port was Death. But, as for him, he carried with him into that port no desire and no regret for life. That he had tried every one of its pretended joys, that he had left nothing undone which could give him the least shadow of pleasure or content, but that at the end he had found everywhere the oracle of Wisdom, vanity of vanities."
He ended with this magnificent thing, which is, perhaps, the last his human power conceived, and I will put it down in his own words:—
"Of all those vanities, the loveliest and most praiseworthy is glory—fame. No one of my time has been so filled with it as I; I have lived in it, and loved and triumphed in it through time past, and now I leave it to my country to garner and possess it after I shall die. So do I go away from my own place as satiated with the glory of this world as I am hungry and all longing for that of God."
DIALOGUE WITH THE NINE SISTERS.
This is a little Amaboean thing not very well known but very Horatian and worth setting down here because it is in the manner of so much that he wrote.
Its manner is admirable. Its gentleness, persistency and increase—are like those of his own small river the Loir. Its last stanza from the middle of the first line "Ceux dont la fantaisie" to the end, should, I think be famous; but an English reader can hardly forgive such an introduction as "Voila sagement dit" to so noble a finale.
DIALOGUE WITH THE NINE SISTERS.
Ronsard. Pour avoir trop aime vostre bande inegale, Muses, qui defiez (ce dites vous) le temps, J'ay les yeux tout battus, la face toute pasle, Le Chef grison et chauve, et je n'ay que trente ans.
Muses. Au nocher qui sans cesse erre sur la marine Le teint noir appartient; le soldat n'est point beau Sans estre tout poudreux; qui courbe la poitrine Sur nos livres, est laid s'il n'a pasle la peau.
Ronsard. Mais quelle recompense aurois-je de tant suivre Vos danses nuict et jour, un laurier sur le front? Et cependant les ans aux quels je deusse vivre En plaisirs et en jeux comme poudre s'en vont.
Muses. Vous aurez, en vivant, une fameuse gloire, Puis, quand vous serez mort, votre nom fleurira L'age, de siecle en siecle, aura de vous memoire; Vostre corps seulement au tombeau pourrira.
Ronsard. O le gentil loyer! Que sert au viel Homere, Ores qu'il n'est plus rien, sous la tombe, la-bas, Et qu'il n'a plus ny chef, ny bras, ny jambe entiere Si son renom fleurist, ou s'il ne fleurist pas!
Muses. Vous estes abuse. Le corps dessous la lame Pourry ne sent plus rien, aussy ne luy en chaut. Mais un tel accident n'arrive point a l'ame, Qui sans matiere vist immortelle la haut.
Ronsard. Bien! Je vous suyvray donc d'une face plaisante, Dusse-je trespasser de l'estude vaincu, Et ne fust-ce qu'a fin que la race suyvante Ne me reproche point qu'oysif j'aye vescu.
Muses. Vela saigement dit, Ceux dont la fantaisie Sera religieuse et devote envers Dieu Tousjours acheveront quelque grand poesie, Et dessus leur renom la Parque n'aura lieu.
THE EPITAPH ON RABELAIS.
Seven years after Rabelais died, Ronsard wrote this off-hand. I give it, not for its value, but because it connects these two great names. The man who wrote it had seen that large and honorable mouth worshipping wine: he had reverenced that head of laughter which has corrected all our philosophy. It would be a shame to pass such a name as Ronsard's signed to an epitaph on such a work as that of Rabelais, poetry or no poetry.
Ronsard also from a tower at Meudon used to creep out at night and drink with that fellow-priest, vicar of the Parish, Rabelais: a greater man than he.
By a memory separate from the rest of his verse, Ronsard was moved to write this Rabelaisian thing. For he had seen him "full length upon the grass and singing so."
There is no need of notes, for these great names of Gargantua, Panurge and Friar John are household to every honest man.
THE EPITAPH ON RABELAIS.
Si d'un mort qui pourri repose Nature engendre quelque chose, Et si la generation Se faict de la corruption, Une vigne prendra naissance Du bon Rabelais qui boivoit Tousjours ce pendant qu'il vivoit;
Demi me se troussoit les bras Et se couchoit tout plat a bas Sur la jonchee entre les tasses Et parmy les escuelles grasses
Il chantait la grande massue Et la jument de Gargantue, Le grand Panurge et le jais Des papimanes ebahis, Leurs loix, leurs facons et demeures Et Frere Jean des Antonneures. Et d'Espisteme les combas. Mais la Mort qui ne boivoit pas Tira le beuveur de ce monde Et ores le fait boire de l'onde Du large fleuve d'Acheron.
"MIGNONNE ALLONS VOIR SI LA ROSE." (The 17th Ode of the First Book.)
"In these eighteen lines," says very modernly a principal critic, "lies Ronsard's fame more surely than in all the remaining mass of his works." He condemns by implication Ronsard's wide waste of power; but the few other poems that I have here had room to print, should make the reader careful of such judgements. It is true that in the great hoard which Ronsard left his people there are separate and particular jewels set in the copper and the gold, but the jewels are very numerous: indeed it was almost impossible to choose so few as I have printed here.
If it be asked why this should have become the most famous, no answer can be given save the "flavour of language." It is the perfection of his tongue. Its rhythm reaches the exact limit of change which a simple metre will tolerate: where it saddens, a lengthy hesitation at the opening of the seventh line introduces a new cadence, a lengthy lingering upon the last syllables of the tenth, eleventh and twelfth closes a grave complaint. So, also by an effect of quantities, the last six lines rise out of melancholy into their proper character of appeal and vivacity: an exhortation.
Certainly those who are so unfamiliar with French poetry as not to know that its whole power depends upon an extreme subtlety of rhythm, may find here the principal example of the quality they have missed. Something much less weighty than the stress of English lines, a just perceptible difference between nearly equal syllables, marks the excellent from the intolerable in French prosody: and to feel this truth in the eighteen lines that follow it is necessary to read them virtually in the modern manner—for the "s" in "vespree" or "vostre" were pedantries in the sixteenth century—but one must give the mute "e's" throughout as full a value as they have in singing. Indeed, reading this poem, one sees how it must have been composed to some good and simple air in the man's head.
If the limits of a page permitted it, I would also show how worthy the thing was of fame from its pure and careful choice of verb—"Tandis que vostre age fleuronne"—but space prevents me, luckily, for all this is like splitting a diamond.
"MIGNONNE ALLONS VOIR SI LA ROSE."
Mignonne, allons voir si la rose Qui ce matin avoit desclose Sa robe de pourpre au soleil A point perdu ceste vespree Les plis de sa robe pourpree Et son teint au vostre pareil
Las! Voyez comme en peu d'espace Mignonne, elle a dessus la place, Las! Las! ses beautez laisse cheoir! O vrayment marastre nature, Puis qu'une telle fleur ne dure Que du matin jusques au soir!
Donc si vous me croyez, Mignonne, Tandis que vostre age fleuronne En sa plus verte nouveaute, Cuillez, Cuillez vostre jeunesse: Comme a ceste fleur, la veillesse Fera ternir vostre beaute.
THE "SONNETS FOR HELENE" (The 42nd and 43rd Sonnets of the Second Book.)
Helene was very real. A young Maid of Honour to Catherine de Medicis; Spanish by blood, Italian by breeding, called in France "de Sugeres," she was the gravest and the wisest, and, for those who loved serenity, the most beautiful of that high and brilliant school.
The Sonnets began as a task; a task the Queen had set Ronsard, with Helene for theme: they ended in the last strong love of Ronsard's life. A sincere lover of many women, he had come to the turn of his age when he saw her, like a memory of his own youth. He has permitted to run through this series, therefore, something of the unique illusion which distance in time or space can lend to the aspect of beauty. An emotion so tenuous does not appear in any other part of his work: here alone you find the chastity or weakness which made something in his mind come near to the sadder Du Bellay's: his soul is regardant all the while as he writes: visions rise from her such as never rose from Cassandra; as this great picture at the opening of the 58th Sonnet of the Second Book:
Seule sans compagnie en une grande salle Tu logeois l'autre jour pleine de majeste.
These "Sonnets for Helene" should be common knowledge: they are (with Du Bellay's) the evident original upon which the author of Shakespeare's Sonnets modelled his work: they are the late and careful effort of Ronsard's somewhat spendthrift genius.
Here are two of them. One, the second, most famous, the other, the first, hardly known: both are admirable.
It is the perfection of their sound which gives them their peculiar quality. The very first lines lead off with a completed harmony: it is as thoroughly a winter night as that in Shakespeare's song, but it is more solemn and, as it were, more "built of stone...."
"La Lune Ocieuse, tourne si lentement son char tout a l'entour", is like a sleeping statue of marble.
To this character, the second adds a vivid interest of emotion which has given it its special fame. Even the populace have come to hear of this sonnet, and it is sung to a lovely tune. It has also what often leads to permanent reputation in verse, a great simplicity of form. The Sextet is well divided from the Octave, the climax is clearly underlined. Ronsard was often (to his hurt) too scholarly to achieve simplicity: when, under the clear influence of some sharp passion or gaiety he did achieve it, then he wrote the lines that will always remain:
A fin qu'a tout jamais de siecle en siecle vive, La Parfaicte amitie que Ronsard la portait.
THE "SONNETS FOR HELENE."
Ces longues nuicts d'hyver, ou la Lune ocieuse Tourne si lentement son char tout a l'entour, Ou le Coq si tardif nous annonce le jour, Ou la nuict semble un an a l'ame soucieuse: Je fusse mort d'ennuy sans ta forme douteuse Qui vient par une feinte alleger mon amour, Et faisant toute nue entre mes bras sejour Me pipe doucement d'une joye menteuse. Vraye tu es farouche, et fiere en cruaute: De toy fausse on jouyst en toute privaute. Pres ton mort je m'endors, pres de luy je repose: Rien ne m'est refuse. Le bon sommeil ainsi Abuse pour le faux mon amoureux souci. S'abuser en Amour n'est pas mauvaise chose.
Quand vous serez bien vieille, au Soir a la chandelle, Assise aupres du feu, devidant et filant, Direz chantant mes vers, en vous esmerveillant, Ronsard me celebroit du temps que j'estois belle. Lors vous n'aurez servante oyant telle nouvelle Desia sous le labeur a demy sommeillant Qui au bruit de mon nom ne s'aille resveillant, Benissant vostre nom de louange immortelle.
Je seray sous la terre et fantome sans os Par les ombres myrteux je prendray mon repos. Vous serez au foyer une veille accroupie, Regrettant mon amour et vostre fier desdain. Vivez, si m'en croyez; n'attendez a demain. Cueillez des aujourdhuy les roses de la vie.
JOACHIM DU BELLAY.
In Du Bellay the literary Renaissance, French but transfigured by Italy, middle-north of the plains but looking southward to the Mediterranean, came to one soul and concentrated upon it, as the plastic expression of the same influence concentrated in Goujon. Very central in time, half soldier, half priest, all student; traveller and almost adventurer, a pilgrim throughout of the Idea, everything about him is symbolic of the generation he adorned.
In its vigour, at least, the Renaissance was a glorious youth—he, Du Bellay, died at thirty-five. Its leap and soaring were taken from the firm platform of strong scholarship—he was a scholar beyond the rest. It fixed special forms—he the French sonnet. It felt the lives of all things running through it as a young man feels them in the spring woods—he gathered in the cup of his verse, and retains for us, the nerve of all that life which is still exultant in the forest beyond his river. His breeding, his high name, his leisured poverty, his passionate friendship, his looking forward always to a new thing, a creation—all this, was the Renaissance in person.
Moreover, the Renaissance had in France its seat where, between rolling lands whose woods are the walls of gardens, the broad and shallow inland Loire runs from Orleans, past Blois and Tours and Saumur, and Ancenis, until near Nantes at last it feels the tide: salt and adventures and the barbaric sea. This varied sheltered land of aged vineyards and great wealth has, for the French Renaissance, the one special quality of beginnings and Edens, namely, that it preserves on to a later time the outward evidences of an original perfection. This place, the nest or seed-plot of the new civilisation, still shows its castles—Blois, Amboise, Chambord. Here Leonardo died, Rabelais, Ronsard himself was born. Here the kings of the Change built in their fantastic pride, and founded a France that still endures. It is as truly the soil of the modern thing as are the provinces north of it (the Isle de France, Normandy, Picardy and Champagne), the soil of the earlier mediaeval flower, and of the Gothic which they preserve unique to our own time.
Now, of this district, Du Bellay was more than a native; he was part of it; he pined away from it; he regretted, as no other man of the time regretted, his father's land: Anjou and the fields of home. He may be said, with some exaggeration, to have died in the misfortune of his separation from the security and sober tradition of his own walls. That great early experience of his, which I have already written down—his meeting with Ronsard—had come to him not far from his own hill, south of the great river. His name, unlike Ronsard's, recalled the gentry of that countryside up to and beyond the beginning of its history; alone of the Pleiade he translated the valley of the Loire, its depth, its delicacy, its rich and subtle loneliness.
Again, the Renaissance lived in France an inspired and an exalted life, so that there necessarily ran through it a fore-knowledge of sudden ending. This tragedy repeated itself in the career of Du Bellay.
His name was famous. The three Du Bellays, the councillor, the soldier, the great Cardinal, were in the first rank of the early sixteenth century. Rabelais had loved them. Francis I had leaned upon and rewarded their service. His father (their first-cousin and Governor of Brest) was a poor noble, who, as is the fashion of nobles, had married a wife to consolidate a fortune. This wife, the mother of Joachim, was heiress to the house of Tourmeliere in Lire, just by the Loire on the brow that looks northward over the river to the bridge and Ancenis. In this house he was born. On his parents' early death he inherited the place, not to enjoy it, but to wander. An early illness had made him forsake the career of arms for that of the Church; but Orders were hardly so much as a cloak to him; it is difficult to remember, as one reads the few evidences of his life, that he wore the cloth at all: in his verse all trace of it is entirely absent. He lived still in that lineage which the reform had not touched. The passionate defence of the Catholic Faith, the Assault converging on the church throughout Europe, the raising of the Siege, the Triumph which developed, at last, on the political side the League, and on the literary the final rigidity of Malherbe, the noise of all these had not reached his circle, kind, or family.
Of that family the Cardinal seems to have regarded him as the principal survivor. He had determined to make of the young poet the heir of its glory. It came to nothing. He accompanied his relative to Rome: but the diplomacy of the mission ill-suited him. Of the Royal ladies at court who befriended him, the marriage of one, the death of another, increased his insecurity. He had inherited, to his bane, another estate—Gonor—from his elder brother. It was encumbered, the cause litigious, and he had inherited with it the tutelage of a sickly child. He never shook off the burden. A tragic error marked his end. He died, certainly broken-hearted, just when his powerful cousin, by a conversion perhaps unknown to the poet himself, had rejected calumnies, and had determined to resign to him the great Archbishopric of Bordeaux.
Eustache Du Bellay, yet another cousin, was Bishop of Paris. He had made Joachim, on his return from Rome, a Canon of Notre Dame, and in that capacity the poet, dying in Paris, was buried in the cathedral. The action of the Chapter in the eighteenth century, when they replaced the old tombstones by the present pavement, has destroyed the record of his grave; I believe it to lie in the southern part of the ambulatory.
In this abrupt descent, following upon so fierce an activity of thought, he prefigured, I say, the close of the Renaissance as his genius typified its living spirit; for all the while, as you read him, you see the cloud about his head, and the profound, though proud and constant, sadness of his eyes.