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A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times|
Francis I. And The Renaissance.
by Guizot, M.
| Francis I., in his life as a king and a soldier, had two rare pieces of
good fortune: two great victories, Melegnano and Ceresole, stand out at
the beginning and the end of his reign; and in his direst defeat, at
Pavia, he was personally a hero. In all else, as regards his government,
his policy was neither an able nor a successful one; for two and thirty
years he was engaged in plans, attempts, wars, and negotiations; he
failed in all his designs; he undertook innumerable campaigns or
expeditions that came to nothing; he concluded forty treaties of war,
peace, or truce, incessantly changing aim, and cause, and allies; and,
for all this incoherent activity, he could not manage to conquer either
the empire or Italy; he brought neither aggrandizement nor peace to
Outside of the political arena, in quite a different field of ideas and
facts, that is, in the intellectual field, Francis I. did better and
succeeded better. In this region he exhibited an instinct and a taste
for the grand and the beautiful; he had a sincere love for literature,
science, and art; he honored and protected, and effectually too, their
works and their representatives. And therein it is that more than one
sovereign and more than one age have found their purest glory to consist.
Virgil, Horace, and Livy contributed quite as much as the foundation of
the empire to shed lustre on the reign of Augustus. Bossuet, Pascal, and
Fenelon, Corneille, Racine, Boileau, Moliere, and La Fontaine, count for
quite as much as his great warriors and his able administrators in regard
to the splendor of the age of Louis XIV. People are quite right to set
this estimate upon the heroes of the human mind and upon their works;
their portion in the history of mankind is certainly not the most
difficult, but it is that which provides both those who give and those
who take with the purest delights, and which is the least dear in respect
of what it costs the nation.
The reign of Francis I. occupies the first half of the century (the
sixteenth), which has been called the age of Renaissance. Taken
absolutely, and as implying a renaissance, following upon a decay of
science, literature, and art, the expression is exaggerated, and goes
beyond the truth; it is not true that the five centuries which rolled by
between the establishment of the Capetians and the accession of Francis
I. (from 987 to 1515), were a period of intellectual barrenness and
decay; the middle ages, amidst the anarchy, violence, and calamities of
their social condition, had, in philosophy, literature, and art, works of
their own and a glory of their own, which lacked not originality, or
brilliancy, or influence over subsequent ages. There is no idea of
telling their history here; we only desire to point out, with some sort
of precision, their special character and their intellectual worth.
At such a period, what one would scarcely expect to find is intellectual
ambition on a very extensive scale and great variety in the branches of
knowledge and in the scope of ideas. And yet it is in the thirteenth
century that we meet for the first time in Europe and in France with the
conception and the execution of a vast repertory of different scientific
and literary works produced by the brain of man, in fact with a veritable
Encyclopaedia. It was a monk, a preaching friar, a simple Dominican
reader (lector qualiscumque), whose life was passed, as he himself says,
by the side and under the eye of the superior-general of his order, who
undertook and accomplished this great labor. Vincent of Beauvais, born
at Beauvais between 1184 and 1194, who died at his native place in 1264,
an insatiable glutton for books (librorum helluo), say his
contemporaries, collected and edited what he called Bibliotheca Mundi,
Speculum majus (Library of the World, an enlarged Mirror), an immense
compilation, the first edition of which, published at Strasbourg in 1473,
comprises ten volumes folio, and would comprise fifty or sixty volumes
octavo. The work contains three, and, according to some manuscripts,
four parts, entitled Speculum naturale (Mirror of Natural Science),
Speculum historiale (Mirror of Historical Science), Speculum
doctrinale (Mirror of Metaphysical Science), and Speculum morale
(Mirror of Moral Science). M. Daunou, in the notice he has given to it
[in the xviiith volume of the Histoire litteraire de la France, begun
by the Benedictines and continued by the Academie des Inscriptions et
Belleslettres de l'Institut, pp. 449-519], disputes, not without reason,
the authenticity of this last part. Each of these Specula contains a
summary, extracted from the various writings which have reference to the
subject of it, and the authors of which Vincent of Beauvais takes care to
name. M. Daunou, at the end of his learned notice, has described the
nature, the merit, and the interest of the work in the following terms:
"The writings and documents which we have to thank Vincent of Beauvais
for having preserved to us are such as pertain to veritable studies, to
doctrines, to traditions, and even to errors which obtained a certain
amount of credit or exercised a certain amount of influence in the course
of ages. . . . Whenever it is desirable to know what were in France,
about 1250, the tendency and the subjects of the most elevated studies,
what sciences were cultivated, what books, whether ancient, or, for the
time, modern, were or might have been read, what questions were in
agitation, what doctrines were prevalent in schools, monasteries,
churches, and the world, it will be to Vincent of Beauvais, above all,
that recourse must be had." There is nothing to be added to this
judicious estimate; there is no intention of entering here into any sort
of detail about the work of Vincent of Beauvais; only it is desirable to
bring some light to bear upon the intellectual aspirations and activity
of the middle ages in France previously to the new impulse which was to
be communicated to them by the glorious renaissance of Greek and Roman
antiquity. A scientific, historical, and philosophical encyclopaedia of
the thirteenth century surely deserves to find a place in the preface to
After the encyclopaedist of the middle ages come, naturally, their
philosophers. They were numerous; and some of them have remained
illustrious. Several of them, at the date of their lives and labors,
have already been met with and remarked upon in this history, such as
Gerbert of Aurillac, who became Pope Sylvester II., St. Anselm, Abelard,
St. Bernard, Robert of Sorbon, founder of the Sorbonne, and St. Thomas
To these names, known to every enlightened man, might be added many
others less familiar to the public, but belonging to men who held a high
place in the philosophical contests of their times, such as John Scot
Erigena, Berenger, Roscelin, William of Champeaux, Gilbert of La Poree,
&c. The questions which always have taken and always will take a
passionate hold of men's minds in respect of God, the universe, and man,
in respect of our origin, our nature, and our destiny, were raised and
discussed, from the eleventh to the fifteenth century, if not with so
much brilliancy, at any rate with as much boldness and earnest thought,
as at any other period. The middle ages had, in France, their
spiritualists, their materialists, their pantheists, their rationalists,
their mystics, and their sceptics, not very clear or refined in their
notions, but such as lacked neither profundity in their general view of
the questions, nor ingenious subtilty in their argumentative process. We
do not care to give in this place any exposition or estimate of their
doctrines; we shall simply point out what there was original and
characteristic in their fashion of philosophizing, and wherein their
mental condition differed essentially from that which was engendered and
propagated, in the sixteenth century, by the resuscitation of Greek and
It is the constant idea of the philosophers and theologians of that
period to affirm and to demonstrate the agreement between Christian faith
and reason. They consider themselves placed between two fixed points,
faith in the Christian truths inculcated from the very first or formally
revealed by God to man, and reason, which is the faculty given to man to
enable him to recognize the truth. "Faith," wrote Hildebert, Archbishop
of Tours, in the eleventh century, "is not contrary to reason, but it is
above reason. If, like the philosophers, one willeth not to believe
anything but what reason comprehends, faith, in this case, hath no merit.
The merit is in believing that which, without being contrary to reason,
is above it. . . . Faith is certainty in respect of things which fall
not under the perceptions of the body; it is below knowledge, for to
believe is less than to know; and it is above opinion, for to believe is
more than to imagine." "I do not seek to understand in order to
believe," says St. Anselm; "I believe in order to understand. . . .
Authority requires faith in order to prepare man for reason." But
"authority," said St. Columban, in the sixth century, "proceeds from
right reason, not at all reason from authority. Every authority whereof
the decrees are not approved of by right reason appears mighty weak."
Minds so liberal in the face of authority, and at the same time attached
to revealed and traditional faith, could not but be sometimes painfully
perplexed. "My wounded spirit," said Adam of the Premontre-order (le
premontre), in the twelfth century, "calls to her aid that which is the
source of all grace and all life. But where is it? What is it? In her
trouble the spirit hath love abiding; but she knows no longer what it is
she loves, what she ought to love. She addresseth herself to the stones
and to the rocks, and saith to them, 'What are ye?' And the stones and
the rocks make answer, 'We are creatures of the same even as thou art.'
To the like question the sun, the moon, and the stars make the like
answer. The spirit doth interrogate the sand of the sea, the dust of the
earth, the drops of rain, the days of the years, the hours of the days,
the moments of the hours, the turf of the fields, the branches of the
trees, the leaves of the branches, the scales of fish, the wings of
birds, the utterances of men, the voices of animals, the movements of
bodies, the thoughts of minds; and these things declare, all with one
consent, unto the spirit, 'We are not that which thou demandest; search
up above us, and thou wilt find our Creator!'" In the tenth century,
Remigius the theologian had gone still farther: "I have resolved," said
he, "to make an investigation as to my God; for it doth not suffice me to
believe in Him; I wish further to see somewhat of Him. I feel that there
is somewhat beyond my spirit. If my spirit should abide within herself
without rising above herself, she would see only herself; it must be
above herself that my spirit will reach God."
God, creator, lawgiver, and preserver of the universe and of man,
everywhere and always present and potent, in permanent connection, nay,
communication, with man, at one time by natural and at another by
supernatural means, at one time by the channel of authority and at
another by that of free-agency, this is the point of departure, this the
fixed idea of the philosopho-theologians of the middle ages. There are
great gaps, great diversities, and great inconsistencies in their
doctrines; they frequently made unfair use of the subtile dialectics
called scholastics (la scolastique), and they frequently assigned too
much to the master's authority (l'autorite du maitre); but Christian
faith, more or less properly understood and explained, and adhesion to
the facts, to the religious and moral precepts, and to the primitive and
essential testimonies of Christianity, are always to be found at the
bottom of their systems and their disputes. Whether they be pantheists
even or sceptics, it is in an atmosphere of Christianity that they live
and that their thoughts are developed.
A breath from the grand old pagan life of Greece and Rome heaved forth
again and spread, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, throughout
this Christian atmosphere of the middle ages. Greek and Roman antiquity,
with its ideas and its works, had never been completely forgotten
therein. Aristotle and Plato, Seneca, Epictetus, Boetius, and other
ancients had taken their place amongst the studies and philosophical
notions of that period; but their influence had been limited to
professional scholars, and had remained without any social influence.
In spite of the stateliness of its ceremonies and the charm of its
traditions, paganism had never been, in plain truth, a religion; faith
and piety had held but a paltry place in it; instead of a God, the
creator and acting sovereign of the world, its gods were of human
invention and human nature: their adventures and the parts they played
were pleasing to the imagination, but gave no sort of satisfaction to the
deep instincts and higher aspirations of the soul. Christianity is God
hovering over, watching over, and descending to earth; paganism is earth,
its children and the stories of their lives transported, with their vices
rather than their virtues, to heaven. Olympus was peopled with nothing
but personages belonging to popular tradition, mythology, or allegory;
and in the fifteenth century this mythology was in full course of decay;
all that it might have commanded of credence or influence had vanished;
there remained of it nothing but barren memories or a contemptuous
incredulity. Speaking from the religious point of view, the Renaissance
was but a resurrection of paganism dying out before the presence of the
Christian world, which was troubled and perplexed, but full of life and
The religious question thus set on one side, the Renaissance was a great
and happy thing, which restored to light and honor the works and glories
of the Greek and Roman communities, those two communities which, in
history anterior to the sixteenth century, had reached the greatest
prosperity and splendor under a civil regimen, in the midst of a more or
less stormy but real and strong political freedom, and had attained by
the mere development of human thought and human energy the highest degree
of civilization yet known in Europe, and, one would be inclined to say,
in the world. The memorials and monuments of this civilization, which
were suddenly removed, at the fall of the Greek empire, to Italy first
and then from Italy to France, and throughout the whole of Western
Europe, impressed with just admiration people as well as princes, and
inspired them with the desire of marching forward in their turn in this
attractive and glorious career. This kind of progress, arrived at by the
road of imitation, often costs dear in the interruption it causes to the
natural course of the peculiar and original genius of nations; but this
is the price at which the destinies of diverse communities get linked
together and interpenetrate, and the general progress of humanity is
It was not only in religious questions and by their philosopho-
theologians that the middle ages, before the Renaissance, displayed their
activity and fecundity. In literature and in art, in history and in
poesy, in architecture and in sculpture, they had produced great and
beautiful works, which were quite worthy of surviving, and have, in fact,
survived the period of their creation. Here, too, the Renaissance of
Greek and Roman antiquity came in, and altered the originality of the
earliest productions of the middle ages, and gave to literature and to
art in France a new direction. It will be made a point here to note with
some exactness the peculiar and native character of French literature at
its origin. It is a far cry from the middle ages to the time of Louis
XIV.; but the splendors of the most lovely days do not efface the charm
belonging to the glimmerings of dawn.
The first amongst the literary creations of the middle ages is that of
the French language itself. When we pass from the ninth to the
thirteenth century, from the oath of Charles the Bald and Louis the
Germanic at Strasbourg, in 842, to the account of the conquest of
Constantinople in 1203, given by Geoffrey de Villehardouin, seneschal of
Champagne, what a space has been traversed, what progress accomplished in
the language of France! It was, at first, nothing but a coarse and
irregular mixture of German and Latin, the former still in a barbarous
and the latter already in a corrupted state; and amidst this mixture
appear some fragments of the Celtic idioms of Gaul, without any literary
tradition to regulate this mass of incoherence and confusion. As for
following the development, regulation, and transformation of the French
national language during these three centuries, and marking how it issued
from this formless and vulgar chaos, there are not facts and documents
enough for our guidance throughout that long travail; but when the
thirteenth century begins, when Villehardouin tells the tale of the
crusade, which put, for seventy years, Constantinople and the Greek
empire of the East in the hands of the Latin and German warriors of the
West, the French language, though still rude and somewhat fluctuating,
appears already rich, varied, and capable of depicting with fidelity and
energy events, ideas, characters, and the passions of men. There we have
French prose and French poesy in their simple and lusty youth; the
Conquest of Constantinople by Geoffrey de Villehardouin, and the Song
of Roland by the unknown poet who collected and put together in the form
of an epopee the most heroic amongst the legends of the reign of
Charlemagne, are the first great and beautiful monuments of French
literature in the middle ages.
The words are French literature; and of that alone is there any intention
of speaking here. The middle ages had, up to the sixteenth century, a
Latin literature; philosophers, theologians, and chroniclers all wrote in
Latin. The philosophers and theologians have already been spoken of.
Amongst the chroniclers some deserve the name of historians; not only do
they alone make us acquainted with the history of their times, but they
sometimes narrate it with real talent as observers and writers. Gregory
of Tours, Eginhard, William of Tyre, Guibert of Nogent, William of
Jumieges, and Orderic Vital are worthy of every attention from those
whose hearts are set upon thoroughly understanding the history of the
periods and the provinces of which those laborers of the middle ages
have, in Latin, preserved the memorials. The chief of those works have
been gathered together and translated in a special collection bearing the
name of Guizot. But it is with the reign of Francis I. that, to bid a
truce to further interruption, we commence the era of the real grand
literature of France, that which has constituted and still constitutes
the pride and the noble pleasure of the French public. Of that alone we
would here denote the master-works and the glorious names, putting them
carefully at the proper dates and places in the general course of events;
a condition necessary for making them properly understood and their
influence properly appreciated. As to the reign of Francis I., however,
it must be premised as follows: several of the most illustrious of French
writers, in poesy and prose, Ronsard, Montaigne, Bodin, and Stephen
Pasquier, were born during that king's lifetime and during the first half
of the sixteenth century; but it is to the second half of that century
and to the first of the seventeenth that they belong by the glory of
their works and of their influence; their place in history will be
assigned to them when we enter upon the precise epoch at which they
performed and shone. We will at present confine ourselves to the great
survivors of the middle ages, whether in prose or poesy, and to the men
who shed lustre on the reign of Francis I. himself, and led French
literature in its first steps along the road on which it entered at that
The middle ages bequeathed to French literature four prose-writers whom
we cannot hesitate to call great historians: Villehardouin, Joinville,
Froissart, and Commynes. Geoffrey de Villehardouin, after having taken
part, as negotiator and soldier, in the crusade which terminated in the
capture of Constantinople, and having settled in Thessaly, at
Messinopolis, as holder of considerable fiefs, with the title of Marshal
of Romania (Roumelia), employed his leisure in writing a history of this
great exploit. He wrote with a dignified simplicity, epic and at the
same time practical, speaking but little of himself, narrating facts with
the precision of one who took part in them, and yet without useless
detail or personal vanity, finding pleasure in doing justice to his
comrades, amongst others the veteran Doge of Venice, Henry Dandolo, and
sometimes intermingling with his story the reflections of a judicious and
sincere Christian, without any pious fanaticism and without ostentation.
Joinville wrote his History of St. Louis at the request of Joan of
Navarre, wife of Philip the Handsome, and five years after that queen's
death; his manuscripts have it thus: "The things which I personally saw
and heard were written in the year of grace 1309, in the month of
October." He was then eighty-five, and he dedicated his book to Louis le
Hutin (the quarreller), great-grandson of St. Louis. More lively and
more familiar in style than Villehardouin, he combines the vivid and
natural impressions of youth with an old man's fond clinging to the
memories of his long life; he likes to bring himself upon the scene,
especially as regards his relations towards and his conversations with
St. Louis, for whom he has a tender regard and admiration, at the same
time that he maintains towards him a considerable independence of ideas,
conduct, and language; he is a valiant and faithful knight, who forms a
very sensible opinion as to the crusade in which he takes part, and who
will not enter upon it a second time even to follow the king to whom he
is devoted, but whose pious fanaticism and warlike illusions he does not
share; his narrative is at one and the same time very full of himself
without any pretension, and very spirited without any show of passion,
and fraught with a graceful and easy carelessness which charms the reader
and all the while inspires confidence in the author's veracity.
Froissart is an insatiable Fry, who revels in all the sights of his day,
events and personages, wars and galas, adventures of heroism or
gallantry, and who is incessantly gadding about through all the dominions
and all the courts of Europe, everywhere seeking his own special
amusement in the satisfaction of his curiosity. He has himself given an
account of the manner in which he collected and wrote his Chronicles.
"Ponder," says he, "amongst yourselves, such of ye as read me, or will
read me, or have read me, or shall hear me read, how I managed to get and
put together so many facts whereof I treat in so many parts. And, for to
inform you of the truth, I began young, at the age of twenty years, and I
came into the world amidst the deeds and adventures, and I did always
take great delight in them, more than in aught else. And God gave me
such grace that I was well with all parties, and with the households of
the kings, and, especially, the household of King Edward of England, and
the noble queen his wife, Madame Philippa of Hainault, unto whom, in my
youth, I was clerk, and I did minister unto her with beautiful ditties
and amorous treatises. And for love of the service of the noble and
valiant dame with whom I was, all the other lords, kings, dukes, counts,
barons, and knights, of whatsoever nation they might be, did love me and
hear me and see me gladly, and brought me great profit. . . . Thus,
wherever I went, I made inquiry of the old knights and squires who had
been at deeds of arms, and who were specially fit to speak thereof, and
also of certain heralds in good credit for to verify and justify all
matters. Thus have I gotten together this lofty and noble history."
This picture of Froissart and his work by his own hand would be
incomplete without the addition of a characteristic anecdote. In one of
his excursions in search of adventures and stories, "he fell in at
Pamiers with a good knight, Messire Espaing of Lyons, who had been in all
the wars of the time, and managed the great affairs of princes. They set
out to travel together, Messire Espaing telling his comrade what he knew
about the history of the places whereby they passed, and Froissart taking
great care to ride close to him for to hear his words. Every evening
they halted at hostels where they drained flagons full of white wine as
good as the good canon had ever drunk in his life; then, after drinking,
so soon as the knight was weary of relating, the chronicler wrote down
just the substance of his stories, so as to better leave remembrance of
them for time to come, as there is no way of retaining so certain as
There is no occasion to add to these quotations; they give the most
correct idea that can be formed of Froissart's chronicles and their
literary merit as well as their historical value.
Philip de Commynes is quite another affair, and far more than Froissart,
nay, than Joinville and Villehardouin. He is a politician proficient in
the understanding and handling of the great concerns and great personages
of his time. He served Charles the Rash and Louis XI.; and, after so
trying an experience, he depicted them and passed judgment upon them with
imperturbable clearsightedness and freedom of thought. With the recital
of events, as well as the portrayal of character, he mingles here and
there the reflections, expressed in precise, firm, and temperate
language, of a profound moralist, who sets before himself no other aim
but that of giving his thoughts full utterance. He has already been
spoken of in the second volume of this History, in connection with his
leaving the Duke of Burgundy's service for that of Louis XI., and with
his remarks upon the virtues as well as the vices of that able but
unprincipled despot. We will not go again over that ground. As a king's
adviser, Commynes would have been as much in place at the side of Louis
XIV. as at that of Louis XI.; as a writer, he, in the fifteenth century,
often made history and politics speak a language which the seventeenth
century would not have disowned.
Let us pass from the prose-writers of the middle ages to their poets.
The grand name of poesy is here given only to poetical works which have
lived beyond their cradles and have taken rank amongst the treasures of
the national literature. Thanks to sociability of manners, vivacity of
intellect, and fickleness of taste, light and ephemeral poesy has
obtained more success and occupied more space in France than in any other
country; but there are successes which give no title to enter into a
people's history; quality and endurance of renown are even more requisite
in literature than in politics; and many a man whose verses have been
very much relished and cried up in his lifetime has neither deserved nor
kept in his native land the beautiful name of poet. Setting aside, of
course, the language and poems of the troubadours of Southern France, we
shall find, in French poesy previous to the Renaissance, only three works
which, through their popularity in their own time, still live in the
memory of the erudite, and one only which, by its grand character and its
superior beauties, attests the poetical genius of the middle ages and can
claim national rights in the history of France. The Romance of the
Rose in the erotic and allegorical style, the Romances of Renart in
the satirical, and the Farce of Patelin, a happy attempt in the line of
comedy, though but little known nowadays to the public, are still and
will remain subjects of literary study. The Song of Roland alone is an
admirable sample of epic poesy in France, and the only monument of
poetical genius in the middle ages which can have a claim to national
appreciation in the nineteenth century. It is almost a pity not to
reproduce here the whole of that glorious epopee, as impressive from the
forcible and pathetic simplicity of its sentiments and language as from
the grandeur of the scene and the pious heroism of the actors in it. It
is impossible, however, to resist the pleasure of quoting some fragments
of it. The best version to refer to is that which has been given almost
word for word, from the original text, by M. Leon Gaultier, in his
beautiful work, so justly crowned by the Academie des Inscriptions et
Belles-lettres, on Lee Epopees Francaises.
In 778 Charlemagne was returning from a great expedition in Spain, during
which, after having taken Pampeluna, he had failed before Saragossa, and
had not considered himself called upon to prolong his struggle with the
Arab Mussulmans. He with the main body of his army had crossed the
Pyrenees, leaving as rearguard a small division under his nephew Roland,
prefect of the Marches of Brittany, Anselm, count of the palace, Oliver,
Roland's comrade, Archbishop Turpin, and several other warriors of
renown. When they arrived at the little valley of Roncesvalles, between
the defiles of Sizer and Val Carlos, this rearguard was unexpectedly
attacked by thousands of Basque mountaineers, who were joined by
thousands of Arabs eager to massacre and plunder the Christians and
Franks, who, indeed, perished to a man in this ambuscade. "The news of
this disaster," says Eginhard, in his Annales, "obscured the glory of the
successes the king had but lately obtained in Spain." This fact, with
large amplifications, became the source of popular legends and songs,
which, probably towards the end of the eleventh century, became embodied
in the Song of Roland, attributed, in two manuscripts, but without any
certainty, to a certain Thuroulde (Turold), Abbot of Malmesbury and
Peterborough under William the Conqueror. It must suffice to reproduce
here only the most beautiful and most characteristic passages of this
little national epopee, a truly Homeric picture of the quasi-barbarous
times and manners of knightly Christendom.
The eighty-second strophe of the poem commences thus:
"'Of Paynim yonder, saw I more,'
Quoth Oliver, 'than e'er before
The eye of man hath seen
An hundred thousand are a-field,
With helm and hauberk, lance and shield,
And pikes and pike-heads gleaming bright;
Prepare for fight, a fiercer fight
Than ever yet hath been.
Blow Olifant, friend Roland, blow,
That Charles and all his host may know.'
"To whom Sir Roland in reply:
'A madman, then, good faith, were I
For I should lose all countenance
Throughout the pleasant land of France
Nay, rather, facing great and small,
I'll smite amain with Durandal,
Until the blade, with blood that's spilt,
Is crimson to the golden hilt.'
'Friend Roland, sound a single blast
Ere Charles beyond its reach hath passed.'
'Forbid it, God,' cried Roland, then,
'It should be said by living men
That I a single blast did blow
For succor from a Paynim foe!'
When Roland sees what moil will be,
Lion nor pard so fierce as he.
"Archbishop Turpin looks around,
Then forward pricks to higher ground
He halts, he speaks; the French give ear:
'Lords barons, Charles hath left us here,
And for our king we're bound to die;
For him maintain the Christian cause;
Behold! how near the battle draws;
Behold! where yonder Paynim lie;
Confess to God; and I will give
Absolvement, that your souls may live.
Pure martyrs are ye if ye fall;
And Paradise awaits ye all.'
"Down leap the French, on bended knee
They fall for benison; and he
Doth lay on all a penance light—
To strike their hardest in the fight.
"The French have risen to their feet;
They leap upon their chargers fleet;
Into the defiles rides their chief
On his good war-horse, Veillantif.
O, in his harness he looks grand!
On, on he goes with lance on high
Its tip is pointed to the sky;
It bears a snow-white pennon, and
Its golden fringes sweep his hand.
He scans the foe with haughty glance,
With meek and sweet the men of France
'Lords barons, gently, gently ride;
Yon Paynim rush to suicide;
No king of France could ever boast
The wealth we'll strip from yonder host.'
And as the words die off his lips,
Christian and Paynim are at grips.
"A wondrous fight! The men of France
Thrust fiercely with the burnished lance!
O, 'twas a sight of grief and dread,
So many wounded, bleeding, dead!
On back or face together they,
One on another falling, lay!
The Paynim cannot choose but yield,
And, willy-nilly, quit the field
The eager French are on their track,
With lances pointed at the back. . . .
"Then pricketh forth a Saracen,
Abyme by name, but worst of men
No faith hath he in God the One,
No faith in Holy Mary's Son;
As black as melted pitch is he,
And not for all Galicia's gold
Could he be bribed his hand to hold
From murder and from treachery;
No merry laugh, no sportive mien
In him was ever heard or seen. . . .
The good archbishop could not brook
On pagan such as he to look;
He saw and fain would strike him dead,
And calmly to himself he said,
'Yon pagan, as it seems to me,
A grievous heretic must be;
'There best to slay him, though I died;
Cowards I never could abide.'
"He mounts his steed, won, so they tell,
From Denmark's monarch, hight Grosselle;
He slew the king and took the steed
The beast is light and built for speed;
His hoofs are neat, his legs are clean,
His thigh is short, his flanks are lean,
His rump is large, his back full height,
His mane is yellow, his tail is white;
With little ears and tawny head,
No steed like him was ever bred.
The good archbishop spurs a-field,
And smites Abyme upon the shield,
His emir's shield, so thickly sown
With many a gem and precious stone,
Amethyst and topaz, crystals bright,
And red carbuncles flashing light:
The shield is shivered by the blow;
No longer worth a doit, I trow;
Stark dead the emir lies below.
'Ha! bravely struck!' the Frenchmen yell:
'Our bishop guards the Cross right well!'
"To Oliver Sir Roland cried,
'Sir comrade, can it be denied
Our bishop is a gallant knight?
None better ever saw the light!
How he doth strike
With lance and pike!'
Quoth Oliver, 'Then in the fight
Haste we to aid him with our might!'
And so the battle is renewed:
The blows are hard, the melley rude;
The Christians suffer sore
Four times they charge and all is well,
But at the fifth—dread tale to tell—
The knights of France are doomed to fall,—
All, all her knights; for of them all
God spareth but threescore.
But O, their lives they dearly sell!
Sir Roland marks what loss is there,
And turns him to Sir Oliver
'Dear comrade, whom pray God to bless,
In God's own name see what distress—
Such heaps of vassals lying low—
Fair France hath suffered at a blow
Well may we weep for her, who's left
A widow, of such lords bereft!
And why, O, why art thou not near,
Our king, our friend, to aid us here?
Say, Oliver, how might we bring
Our mournful tidings to the king?'
Quoth Oliver, 'I know not, I
To fly were shame; far better die.'
Quoth Roland, 'I my horn will blow,
That Charles may hear and Charles may know;
And, in the defiles, from their track
The French, I swear, will hasten back.'
Quoth Oliver, ''Twere grievous shame;
'Twould bring a blush to all thy name
When I said thus thou scornedst me,
And now I will not counsel thee.
And shouldst thou blow, 'twere no great blast;
Already blood is gushing fast
From both thine arms.' 'That well may be,'
Quoth he, 'I struck so lustily!
The battle is too strong: I'll blow
Mine Olifant, that Charles may know.'
Quoth Oliver, 'Had Charles been here,
This battle had not cost so dear;
But as for yon poor souls, I wis,
No blame can rest with them for this.'
'Why bear me spite?' Sir Roland said.
'The fault,' said he, 'lies on thy head.
And mark my words; this day will see
The end of our good company;
We twain shall part—not as we met—
Full sadly ere yon sun bath set.'
The good archbishop hears the stir,
And thither pricks with golden spur;
And thus he chides the wrangling lords
'Roland, and you, Sir Oliver,
Why strive ye with such bitter words
Horns cannot save you; that is past;
But still 'twere best to sound a blast;
Let the king come: he'll strike a blow
For vengeance, lest the Paynim foe
Back to their homes in triumph go.'
"With pain and dolor, groan and pant,
Count Roland sounds his Olifant:
The crimson stream shoots from his lips;
The blood from bursten temple drips;
But far, O, far the echoes ring,
And, in the defiles, reach the king;
Reach Naymes, and the French array:
'Tis Roland's horn,' the king doth say;
'He only sounds when brought to bay.'
How huge the rocks! How dark and steep!
The streams are swift! The valleys deep!
Out blare the trumpets, one and all,
As Charles responds to Roland's call.
Round wheels the king, with choler mad,
The Frenchmen follow grim and sad;
Not one but prays for Roland's life,
Till they have joined him in the strife.
But ah! what prayer can alter fate?
The time is past; too late! too late!
As Roland scans both plain and height,
And sees how many Frenchmen lie
Stretched in their mortal agony,
He mourns them like a noble knight:
'Comrades, God give ye grace to-day,
And grant ye Paradise, I pray!
No lieges ever fought as they.
What a fair land, O France, art thou!
But ah! forlorn and widowed now!
O Oliver, at least to thee,
My brother, I must faithful be
Back, comrade mine, back let us go,
And charge once more the Paynim foe!'
"When Roland spies the cursed race,
More black than ink, without a trace,
Save teeth, of whiteness in the face,
'Full certified,' quoth he, 'am I,
That we this very day shall die.
Strike, Frenchmen, strike; that's all my mind!'
'A curse on him who lags behind!'
Quoth gallant Oliver; and so
Down dash the Frenchmen on the foe. . . .
Sir Oliver with failing breath,
Knowing his wound is to the death,
Doth call to him his friend, his peer,
His Roland: 'Comrade, come thou here;
To be apart what pain it were!'
When Roland marks his friend's distress,
His face all pale and colorless,
'My God!' quoth he, 'what's now to do?
O my sweet France, what dole for you,
Widowed of all your warriors true!
You needs must perish!' At such plaint,
Upon his steed he falls a-faint.
"See Roland riding in a swound:
And Oliver with mortal wound;
With loss of blood so dazed is he
He neither near nor far can see
What manner of man a man may be:
And, meeting with Sir Roland so,
He dealeth him a fearful blow
That splits the gilded helm in two
Down to the very nasal, though,
By luck, the skull it cleaves not through.
With blank amaze doth Roland gaze,
And gently, very gently, says,
'Dear comrade, smit'st thou with intent?
Methinks no challenge hath been sent
I'm Roland, who doth love thee so.'
Quoth Oliver, 'Thy voice I know,
But see thee not; God save thee, friend:
I struck thee; prithee pardon me.
No hurt have I; and there's an end.'
Quoth Roland, 'And I pardon thee
'Fore man and God right willingly.'
They bow the head, each to his brother,
And so, in love, leave one another."
(Oliver dies: Roland and Archbishop Turpin continue the fight.)
"Then Roland takes his horn once more;
His blast is feebler than before,
But still it reaches the emperor
He hears it, and he halts to shout,
'Let clarions, one and all, ring out!'
Then sixty thousand clarions ring,
And rocks and dales set echoing.
And they, too, hear—the pagan pack;
They force the rising laughter back;
'Charles, Charles,' they cry, 'is on our track!'
They fly; and Roland stands alone—
Alone, afoot; his steed is gone—
Brave Veillantif is gone, and so,
He, willy-nilly, afoot must go.
Archbishop Turpin needs his aid:
The golden helm is soon unlaced,
The light, white hauberk soon unbraced;
And gently, gently down he laid
On the green turf the bishop's head;
And then beseechingly he said,—
"'Ah! noble sir, your leave I crave
The men we love, our comrades brave,
All, all are dead; they must not lie
Here thus neglected; wherefore I
Will seek for them, each where he lies,
And lay them out before your eyes.'
'Go,' said the bishop, 'and speed be thine
Thank God! the field is thine and mine.'
"Sir Roland searched the plain, and found
His comrade's body on the ground;
Unto his heart he strained it tight,
And bore it off, as best he might.
Upon a shield he lays his friend
Beside the rest, and, for an end,
The bishop gives them, all and one,
Absolvement and a benison.
As Roland marks them lying there,
His peers all dead—and Oliver,
His mighty grief he cannot stay,
And, willy-nilly, swoons away.
"The bishop feeleth grief profound
To see Sir Roland in a swound.
Through Roncesvalles, well he knows,
A stream of running water flows,
And fain would he a journey make
To fetch thereof for Roland's sake,
He totters forth; he makes essay;
But all! his feeble limbs give way;
Breaks his great heart; he falls and lies,
Face downward, in death's agonies!
So Charles's soldier-priest is dead
He who with mighty lance and sword
And preacher's craft incessant warred
Against the scorners of the Lord:
God's benediction on his head!
Count Roland laid him to his rest
Between his shoulders, on his breast,
He crossed the hands so fine and fair,
And, as his country's customs were,
He made oration o'er him there
'Ah! noble knight, of noble race,
I do commend thee to God's grace
Sure never man of mortal birth
Served Him so heartily on earth.
Thou hadst no peer in any clime
To stoutly guard the Christian cause
And turn bad men to Christian laws,
Since erst the great Apostles' time.
Now rest thy soul from dolor free,
And Paradise be oped to thee!'"
(A last encounter takes place: a Saracen left wounded on the
battle-field, seeing Roland in a swoon, gets up, and approaches him,
saying, "Vanquished, he is vanquished, the nephew of Charles! There is
his sword, which I will carry off to Arabia!")
"And as he makes to draw the steel,
A something doth Sir Roland feel;
He opes his eyes, says nought but this,
'Thou art not one of us, I wis,'
Raises the horn he would not quit,
And cracks the pagan's skull with it. . .
And then the touch of death that steals
Down, down from head to heart he feels
Under yon pine he hastes away
On the green turf his head to lay
Placing beneath him horn and sword,
He turns towards the Paynim horde,
And, there, beneath the pine, he sees
A vision of old memories
A thought of realms he helped to win,
Of his sweet France, of kith and kin,
And Charles, his lord, who nurtured him.
He sighs, and tears his eyes bedim.
Then, not unmindful of his case,
Once more he sues to God for grace
'O Thou, true Father of us all,
Who hatest lies, who erst did call
The buried Lazarus from the grave,
And Daniel from the lions save,
From all the perils I deserve
For sinful life my soul preserve!'
Then to his God outstretcheth he
The glove from his right hand; and, see!
St. Gabriel taketh it instantly.
God sends a cherub-angel bright,
And Michael, Saint of Peril hight;
And Gabriel comes; up, up they rise,
And bear the Count to Paradise."
It is useless to carry these quotations any further; they are sufficient
to give an idea of the grand character of the poem in which so many
traits of really touching affection and so many bursts of patriotic
devotion and pious resignation are mingled with the merest brute courage.
Such, in its chief works, philosophical, historical, and poetical, was
the literature which the middle ages bequeathed to the reign of
Francis I. In history only, and in spite of the new character assumed
afterwards by the French language, this literature has had the honor of
preserving its nationality and its glory. Villehardouin, Joinville,
Froissart, and Commynes have remained great writers. In philosophy and
in poesy a profound revolution was approaching; the religious reform and
the fine literary genius as well as the grand French language of the
seventeenth century were preparing to rise above the intellectual
horizon. But between the moment when such advances dawn and that when
they burst forth there is nearly always a period of uncertain and
unfruitful transition: and such was the first half of the sixteenth
century, that is to say, the actual reign of Francis I.; it is often
called the reign of the Renaissance, which certainly originated in his
reign, but it did not grow and make any display until after him; the
religious, philosophical, and poetical revolution, Calvin, Montaigne, and
Ronsard, born in the earlier half of the seventeenth century, did not do
anything that exercised any power until the later. One single poet, a
third-rate one, Clement Marot, attained lustre under Francis I. Rabelais
is the only great prose writer who belongs strictly to that period. The
scholars, the learned critics of what had been left by antiquity in
general and by Greek and Roman antiquity in particular, Bude (Budaeus),
J. C. Scaliger; Muretus, Danes (Danesius), Arnyot, Ramus (Peter la
Ramee), Robert Estienne (Stephanus), Vatable (Watebled), Cujas, and
Turnebius make up the tale of literature specially belonging to and
originating in the reign of Francis I., just as the foundation of the
College Royal, which became the College de France, is his chief personal
claim to renown in the service of science and letters.
Let us return to the poets of the actual reign of Francis I. The first
we encounter speaks thus of himself:—
"I am not rich; that, certes, I confess;
But, natheless, well born and nobly bred;
I'm read by both the people and noblesse,
Throughout the world: 'That's Clement,' it is said.
Men live their span; but I shall ne'er be dead.
And thou—thou hast thy meadow, well, and spring,
Wood, field, and castle—all that wealth can bring.
There's just that difference 'twixt thee and me.
But what I am thou couldst not be: the thing
Thou art, why, anybody else might be."
Now who was this who, with perfect confidence, indulged in such proud
language? Was it a Homer, a Dante, a Corneille, one of those great
poetical geniuses whose works can move a whole people, are addressed to
all the world, and "will live forever"? No; it was a poet of the court
and of the fashionable world of Paris, of Blois, and of Amboise, in the
sixteenth century, a groom-of-the-chamber to Marguerite de Valois, and
one of Francis I.'s favorites, who had written elegies, eclogues,
epistles, complaints, roundelays, and epigrams on the incidents and for
his masters and mistresses of the hour; France owed to him none of those
great poetical works consecrated to description of the grand destinies
and grand passions of man, and to the future as well as to the writer's
Clemont Marot, the son of a petty burgess of Cahors, named John Marot,
himself a poet in a small way, who had lived some time at the court of
Louis XII., under the patronage of Queen Anne of Bretagne, had a right to
style himself, "well born and nobly bred;" many of the petty burgesses of
Cahors were of noble origin, and derived therefrom certain privileges;
John Marot, by a frugal and regular life, had acquired and left to his
son two estates in the neighborhood of Cahors, where, no doubt, Clement
resided but little, for he lived almost constantly at the court, or
wandering about Europe, in every place where at one time the fortunes of
the king his protector and at another the storm of the nascent religious
reform left him stranded willy-nilly. He was present in 1525 at the
battle of Pavia, where he was wounded and taken prisoner with his king,
but soon released, since the Imperialists let go on easy terms gentlemen
of whom it was impossible to make a rich booty. From that time we do not
meet any more with Clement Marot in war or politics; to Marguerite de
Valois, to adventures of gallantry, and to success in his mundane line of
poesy his life was thenceforth devoted. The scandal of history has often
been directed against his relations with his royal patroness; but there
seems to be no real foundation for such a suspicion; the manners of the
sixteenth century admitted of intimacies in language, and sometimes even
of familiarities in procedure, contrasting strangely with demonstrations
of the greatest respect, nay, humility. Clement Marot was the king of
poesy and set the fashion of wit in his time; Marguerite had a generous
and a lively sympathy with wit, talent, success, renown; the princess and
the poet were mutually pleased with and flattered one another; and the
liberties allowed to sympathy and flattery were great at that time, but
far less significant than they would be in our day.
What were the cause, the degree, and the real value of this success and
this renown of which Clement Marot made so much parade, and for which his
contemporaries gave him credit? What change, what progress effected by
him, during his lifetime, in French literature and the French language
won for him the place he obtained and still holds in the opinion of the
A poet who no more than Clement Marot produced any great poetical work,
and was very different from him in their small way, Francis Villon, in
fact, preceded him by about three quarters of a century. The most
distinguished amongst the literary critics of our time have discussed the
question as to which of the two, Villon or Marot, should be regarded as
the last poet of the middle ages and the first of modern France.
M. Sainte-Beuve, without attempting to precisely solve that little
problem, has distinguished and characterized the two poets with so much
of truth and tact that there can be no hesitation about borrowing his
words: "Was Villon," is the question he puts to himself, "an originator?
Did he create a style of poesy? Had he any idea of a literary reaction,
as we should say nowadays? What is quite certain is, that he possessed
original talent; that amidst all the execrable tricks wherein he
delighted and wherein he was a master, he possessed the sacred spark.
. . . A licentious scamp of a student, bred at some shop in the Cite
or the Place Maubert, he has a tone which, at least as much as that of
Regnier, has a savor of the places the author frequented. The beauties
whom he celebrates—and I blush for him—are none else than la blanche
Savetiere (the fair cobbleress), or la gente Saul cissiere, du coin
(the pretty Sausage girl at the corner). But he has invented for some of
those natural regrets which incessantly recur in respect of vanished
beauty and the flight of years a form of expression, truthful, charming,
and airy, which goes on singing forever in the heart and ear of whosoever
has once heard it. He has flashes, nothing more than flashes, of
melancholy. . . . It is in reading the verses of Clement Marot that
we have, for the first time as it seems to me, a very clear and distinct
feeling of having got out from the circumbendibus of the old language,
from the Gallic tangle. We are now in France, in the land and amidst the
language of France, in the region of genuine French wit, no longer that
of the boor, or of the student, or of the burgess, but of the court and
good society. Good society, in poesy, was born with Marot, with Francis
I., and his sister Marguerite, with the Renaissance: much will still have
to be done to bring it to perfection, but it exists and will never cease
again. . . . Marot, a poet of wits rather than of genius or of great
talent, but full of grace and breeding, who has no passion, but is not
devoid of sensibility, has a way of his own of telling and saying things;
he has a turn of his own; he is, in a word, the agreeable man, the
gentleman-like man, who is bound to be pleasant and amusing, and who
discharges his duty with an easy air and unexceptionable gallantry."
There we have exactly the new character which Marot, coming between
Villon and Ronsard, gave in the sixteenth century to French poesy. We
may be more exacting than M. Sainte-Beuve; we may regret that Marot,
whilst rescuing it from the streets, confined it too much to the court;
the natural and national range of poesy is higher and more extensive than
that; the Hundred Years' War and Joan of Arc had higher claims. But it
is something to have delivered poesy from coarse vulgarity, and
introduced refinement into it. Clement Marot rendered to the French
language, then in labor of progression, and, one might say, of formation,
eminent service: he gave it a naturalness, a clearness, an easy swing,
and, for the most part, a correctness which it had hitherto lacked. It
was reserved for other writers, in verse and prose, to give it boldness,
the richness that comes of precision, elevation, and grandeur.
In 1534, amidst the first violent tempest of reform in France, Clement
Marot, accused of heresy, prudently withdrew and went to seek an asylum
at Ferrara, under the protection of the duchess, Renee of France,
daughter of Louis XII. He there met Calvin, who already held a high
position amongst the Reformers, and who was then engaged on a translation
of the Psalms in verse. The reformer talked to the poet about this grand
Hebrew poesy, which, according to M. Villemain's impression, "has
defrayed in sublime coin the demands of human imagination." Marot, on
returning to France, found the College Royal recently instituted there,
and the learned Vatable [Francis Watebled, born at Gamaches, in Picardy,
died at Paris in 1547] teaching Hebrew with a great attendance of pupils
and of the curious. The professor engaged the poet to translate the
Psalms, he himself expounding them to him word by word. Marot translated
thirty of them, and dedicated them to Francis I., who not only accepted
the dedication, but recommended the work and the author to Charles V.,
who was at that time making a friendly passage through France on his way
to put down the insurrection at Ghent. "Charles V. accepted the said
translation graciously" [as appears by a letter in 1559 to Catherine de'
Medici from Villemadon, one of Marguerite of Navarre's confidential
servants], "commended it both by words and by a present of two hundred
doubloons, which he made to Marot, thus giving him courage to translate
the rest of the Psalms, and praying him to send him as soon as possible
the Psalm Confitemini Domino, quoniam bonus [Trust in the Lord, for He
is good], so fond was he of it." Singular fellow-feeling between Charles
V. and his great adversary Luther, who said of that same psalm, "It is
my friend; it has saved me in many a strait from which emperor, kings,
sages, nor saints could have delivered me!" Clement Marot, thus aided
and encouraged in this work which gave pleasure to Francis I. and Charles
V., and must have been still more interesting to Calvin and Luther,
prosecuted his work and published in 1541 the first thirty psalms; three
years afterwards, in 1543, he added twenty others, and dedicated the
collection "to the ladies of France," in an epistle wherein the following
"Happy the man whose favored ear
In golden days to come shall hear
The ploughman, as he tills the ground,
The tarter, as he drives his round,
The shopman, as his task he plies,
With psalms or sacred melodies
Whiling the hours of toil away!
O, happy he who hears the lay
Of shepherd and of shepherdess,
As in the woods they sing and bless,
And make the rocks and pools proclaim
With them their great Creator's name!
O, can ye brook that God invite
Them before you to such delight?
Begin, ladies, begin! . . ."
A century after Marot's time, in 1649, a pious and learned Catholic,
Godeau, Bishop of Grasse and member of the nascent French Academy, was in
his turn translating the Psalms, and rendered full justice to the labors
of the poet, his predecessor, and to the piety of the Reformers, in the
following terms "Those whose separation from the church we deplore have
rendered the version they make use of famous by the pleasing airs that
learned musicians set them to when they were composed. To know them by
heart is, amongst them, a sign of the communion to which they belong, and
in the towns in which they are most numerous the airs may be heard coming
from the mouths of artisans, and in the country from those of tillers."
In 1555, eight years after the death of Francis I., Estienne Pasquier
wrote to Ronsard, "In good faith, there was never seen in France such a
glut of poets. I fear that in the long run people will weary of them.
But it is a vice peculiar to us that as soon as we see anything
succeeding prosperously for any one, everybody wants to join in."
Estienne Pasquier's fear was much better grounded after the death of
Francis I., and when Ronsard had become the head of the poet-world, than
it would have been in the first half of the sixteenth century. During
the reign of Francis I. and after the date of Clement Marot, there is no
poet of any celebrity to speak of, unless we except Francis I. himself
and his sister Marguerite; and it is only in compliment to royalty's name
that they need be spoken of. They, both of them, had evidently a mania
for versifying, even in their most confidential communications, for many
of their letters to one another, those during the captivity of Francis I.
at Madrid amongst the rest, are written in verse; but their verses are
devoid of poesy; they are prose, often long-winded and frigid, and
sometimes painfully labored. There is, however, a distinction to be made
between the two correspondents. In the letters and verses of Marguerite
there is seen gleaming forth here and there a sentiment of truth and
tenderness, a free and graceful play of fancy. We have three collections
of her writings: 1. her Heptameron, ou les Sept Journees de la Reine de
Navarre, a collection of sixty-eight tales more or less gallant,
published for the first time in 1558, without any author's name; 2. her
OEuvres poetiques, which appeared at Lyons in 1547 and 1548, in
consequence of her being alive, under the title of Les Marguerites de la
Marguerite des Princesses (the Pearls of the Pearl of Princesses), and
of which one of her grooms of the chamber was editor; in addition to
which there is a volume of Poesies inedites, collected by order of
Marguerite herself, but written by the hand of her secretary John Frotte,
and preserved at Paris amongst the manuscripts of the Bibliotheque
nationale; 3. the Collection of her Letters, published in 1841, by M. F.
Genin. This last collection is, morally as well as historically, the
most interesting of the three. As for Francis I. himself, there is
little, if anything, known of his posies beyond those which have been
inserted in the Documents relatifs a sa Captivite a Madrid, published
in 1847 by M. Champollion-Figeac; some have an historical value, either
as regards public events or Francis I.'s relations towards his mother,
his sister, and his mistresses; the most important is a long account of
his campaign, in 1525, in Italy, and of the battle of Pavia; but the
king's verses have even less poetical merit than his sister's.
Francis I.'s good will did more for learned and classical literature than
for poesy. Attention has already been drawn to the names of the
principal masters in the great learned and critical school which devoted
itself, in this reign, to the historical, chronological, philological,
biographical, and literary study of Greek and Roman antiquity, both Pagan
and Christian. It is to the labors of this school and to their results
that the word Renaissance is justly applied, and that the honor is
especially to be referred of the great intellectual progress made in the
sixteenth century. Francis I. contributed to this progress, first by the
intelligent sympathy he testified towards learned men of letters, and
afterwards by the foundation of the College Royal, an establishment of
a special, an elevated, and an independent sort, where professors found a
liberty protected against the routine, jealousy, and sometimes
intolerance of the University of Paris and the Sorbonne. The king and
his sister Marguerite often went to pay a visit, at his printing-place in
St. Jean de Beauvais Street, to Robert Estienne (Stephanus), the most
celebrated amongst that family of printer-publishers who had so much to
do with the resurrection of ancient literature. It is said that one day
the king waited a while in the work-room, so as not to disturb Robert
Estienne in the correction of a proof.
When the violence bred of religious quarrels finally forced the learned
and courageous printer to expatriate himself, his first care was to say,
at the head of his apology, "When I take account of the war I have
carried on with the Sorbonne for a space of twenty years or thereabouts,
I cannot sufficiently marvel how so small and broken-down a creature as I
am had strength to maintain it. When I was seen being harried on all
sides, how often have I been the talk on street and at banquets, whilst
people said, 'It is all over with him; he is caught, he cannot escape;
even if the king would, he could not save him.' . . . I wish to
justify myself against the reproach of having left my country, to the
hurt of the public weal, and of not having acknowledged the great
liberality displayed towards me by the king; since it was a high honor
for me that the king, having deigned to make me his printer, always kept
me under his protection, in the face of all who envied me and wished me
ill, and never ceased to aid me graciously in all sorts of ways."
The College Royal, no less than Robert Estienne, met with obstacles and
ill-wishers; it was William Bude (Budeaus) who first suggested the idea
of the college to the king, primarily with the limited purpose of
securing instruction in Greek and Hebrew, after the fashion of the
College of Young Grecians and the College of the Three Languages (the
Trilingual, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin), of which the former was founded at
Rome by Leo X., the latter at Louvain by Canon Jerome Busleyden. Francis
I. readily surrendered himself to more magnificent projects; he was
anxious to erect a splendid building on the site of the Hotel de Nesle,
and to put Erasmus at the head of the College Royal. War incessantly
renewed and the nascent religious troubles interfered with his
resolutions; but William Bude never ceased to urge upon the king an
extension of the branches of learning in the establishment; and after the
Peace of Cambrai in 1529, chairs of mathematics, Oriental languages,
Latin oratory, Greek and Latin philosophy, and medicine were successively
added to the chairs of Hebrew and Greek which had been the original
nucleus of instruction in the College Royal. It continued to be an
object of suspicion to the Sorbonne and of hesitation in the Parliament,
to which royalty had recourse against the attacks of its adversaries.
But it had no lack of protectors, nevertheless: the Cardinal of Lorraine,
Charles IX., and Catherine de' Medici herself supported it in its trials;
and Francis I. had the honor of founding a great school of the higher
sort of education, a school, which, throughout all the religious
dissensions and all the political revolutions of France, has kept its
position and independence, whatever may have been elsewhere, in the
matter of public instruction, the system and the regimen of state
A few words have already been said about the development of the arts,
especially architecture and sculpture, in the middle ages, and of the
characteristics, original and national, Gallic and Christian, which
belonged to them at this period, particularly in respect of their
innumerable churches, great and small. A foreglance has been given of
the alteration which was brought about in those characteristics, at the
date of the sixteenth century, by the Renaissance, at the same time that
the arts were made to shine with fresh and vivid lustre. Francis I. was
their zealous and lavish patron; he revelled in building and embellishing
palaces, castles, and hunting-boxes, St. Germain, Chenonceaux,
Fontainebleau, and Chambord; his chief councillors, Chancellor Duprat and
Admiral Bonnivet, shared his taste and followed his example; several
provinces, and the banks of the Loire especially, became covered with
splendid buildings, bearing the marks of a complicated character which
smacked of imitations from abroad. Italy, which, from the time of
Charles VIII. and Louis XII., had been the object of French kings'
ambition and the scene of French wars, became also the school of French
art; national and solemn Christian traditions were blended, whilst taking
an altered form, with the Italian resuscitation of Greek and Roman
antiquity. Italian artists, such as Rosso of Florence, Primatice of
Bologna, Niccolo dell' Abbate of Modena, and Benvenuto Cellini of
Florence, came and settled in France, and there inspired and carried out
the king's projects and works. Leonardo da Vinci, full of years and
discontented with his Italian patrons, accompanied Francis I. to France,
and died in his arms at the castle of Clou, near Amboise, where he had
fixed his residence. Some great French artists, such as the painter John
Cousin and the sculptor John Goujon, strove ably to uphold the original
character and merits of French art; but they could not keep themselves
entirely aloof from the influence of this brilliant Italian art, for
which Francis I.'s successors, even more than he, showed a zealous and
refined attachment, but of which he was, in France, the first patron.
We will not quit the first half of the sixteenth century and the literary
and philosophical Renaissance which characterizes that period, without
assigning a place therein at its proper date and in his proper rank to
the name, the life, and the works of the man who was not only its most
original and most eminent writer, but its truest and most vivid
Francis Rabelais, who was born at Chinon in 1495, and died at Paris in
1553, wandered during those fifty-eight years about France and Europe
from town to town, from profession to profession, from good to bad and
from bad to good estate; first a monk of the Cordeliers; then, with Pope
Clement VII.'s authority, a Benedictine; then putting off the monk's
habit and assuming that of a secular priest in order to roam the world,
"incurring," as he himself says, "in this vagabond life, the double
stigma of suspension from orders and apostasy;" then studying medicine at
Montpellier; then medical officer of the great hospital at Lyons, but,
before long, superseded in that office "for having been twice absent
without leave;" then staying at Lyons as a corrector of proofs, a
compiler of almanacs, an editor of divers books for learned patrons, and
commencing the publication of his Vie tres-horrifique du grand
Gargantua, pere de Pantagruel (Most horrifying life of the great
Gargantua, father of Pantagruel), which was immediately proceeded against
by the Sorbonne "as an obscene tale." On grounds of prudence or
necessity Rabelais then quitted Lyons and set out for Rome as physician
attached to the household of Cardinal John Du Bellay, Bishop of Paris and
envoy from France to the Holy See; the which bishop "having relished the
profound learning and competence of Rabelais, and having, besides,
discovered in him fine humor and a conversation capable of diverting the
blackest melancholy, retained him near his person in the capacity of
physician in ordinary to himself and all his family, and held him ever
afterwards in high esteem." After two years passed at Rome, and after
rendering all sorts of service in his patron's household, Rabelais,
"feeling that the uproarious life he was leading and his licentious deeds
were unworthy of a man of religion and a priest," asked Pope Paul III.
for absolution, and at the same time permission to resume the habit of
St. Benedict, and to practise "for piety's sake, without hope of gain and
in any and every place," the art of medicine, wherein he had taken, he
said, the degrees of bachelor, licentiate, and doctor. A brief of Pope
Paul III.'s, dated January 17, 1536, granted his request. Seventeen
months afterwards, on the 22d of May, 1537, Rabelais reappears at
Montpellier, and there receives, it is said, the degree of doctor, which
he had already taken upon himself to assume. He pursues his life of
mingled science and adventure, gives lessons, and gads about so much that
"his doctor's gown and cap are preserved at Montpellier, according to
tradition, all dirty and torn, but objects of respectful reminiscence."
In 1538 Rabelais leaves Montpellier, and goes to practise medicine at
Narbonne, Castres, and Lyons. In 1540 he tires of it, resumes, as he had
authority to do, the habit of a canon of St. Maur, and settles in that
residence, "a paradise," as he himself says, "of salubrity, amenity,
serenity, convenience, and all the chaste pleasures of agriculture and
country-life." Between 1540 and 1551 he is, nevertheless, found once
more wandering, far away from this paradise, in France, Italy, and,
perhaps, England; he completes and publishes, under his own name, the
Faits et Dicts heroiques de Pantagruel, and obtains from Francis I. a
faculty for the publication of "these two volumes not less useful than
delightful, which the printers had corrupted and perverted in many
passages, to the great displeasure and detriment of the author, and to
the prejudice of readers." The work made a great noise; the Sorbonne
resolved to attack it, in spite of the king's approbation; but Francis I.
died on the 31st of March, 1547. Rabelais relapsed into his life of
embarrassment and vagabondage; on leaving France he had recourse, first
at Metz and afterwards in Italy, to the assistance of his old and ever
well-disposed patron, Cardinal John Du Bellay. On returning to France he
obtained from the new king, Henry II., a fresh faculty for the printing
of his books "in Greek, Latin, and Tuscan;" and, almost at the same time,
on the 18th of January, 1551, Cardinal Du Bellay, Bishop of Paris,
conferred upon him the cure of St. Martin at Meudon, "which he
discharged," says his biographer Colletet, "with all the sincerity, all
the uprightness, and all the charity that can be expected of a man who
wishes to do his duty, and to the satisfaction of his flock."
Nevertheless, when the new holder of the cure at Meudon, shortly after
his installation, made up his mind to publish the fourth book of the
Faits et Dicts heroiques du bon Pantagruel, the work was censured by
the Sorbonne and interdicted by decree of Parliament, and authority to
offer it for sale was not granted until, on the 9th of February, 1552,
Rabelais had given in his resignation of his cure at Meudon, and of
another cure which he possessed, under the title of benefice, in the
diocese of Le Mans. He retired in bad health to Paris, where he died
shortly afterwards, in 1553, "in Rue des Jardins, parish of St. Paul, in
the cemetery whereof he was interred," says Colletet, "close to a large
tree which was still to be seen a few years ago."
Such a life, this constant change of position, profession, career, taste,
patron, and residence, bore a strong resemblance to what we should
nowadays call a Bohemian life; and everything shows that Rabelais'
habits, without being scandalous, were not more regular or more dignified
than his condition in the world. Had we no precise and personal
information about him in this respect, still his literary work,
Gargantua and Pantagruel, would not leave us in any doubt: there is no
printed book, sketch, conversation, or story, which is more coarse and
cynical, and which testifies, whether as regards the author or the public
for whom the work is intended, to a more complete and habitual
dissoluteness in thought, morals, and language. There is certainly no
ground for wondering that the Sorbonne, in proceeding against the Vie
tres-horrifique du grand Gargantua, pere de Pantagruel, should have
described it as "an obscene tale;" and the whole part of Panurge, the
brilliant talker of the tale,
"Take him for all in all the best boy in the world,"
fully justifies the Sorbonne. But, by way of striking contrast, at the
same time that the works of Rabelais attest the irregularity of men's
lives and minds, they also reveal the great travail that is going on and
the great progress that has already been made in the intellectual
condition of his day, in the influence of natural and legitimate
feelings, and in the appreciation of men's mutual rights and duties.
Sixty-two years ago M. Guizot published, in a periodical collection
entitled Annales de l'Education, a Study of Rabelais' ideas compared
with the practice and routine of his day in respect of Education; an
important question in the sixteenth as it is in the nineteenth century.
It will be well to quote here from that Study certain fragments which
will give some notion of what new ideas and tendencies were making their
way into the social life of France, and were coincident with that great
religious and political ferment which was destined to reach
bursting-point in the reign of Francis I., and to influence for nearly
a century the fortunes of France.
"It was no easy matter," were the words used by M. Guizot in 1811, "to
speak reasonably about education at the time when Rabelais wrote. There
was then no idea of home-education and the means of rendering it
practicable. As to public education, there was no extensive range and
nothing really useful to the community in the instruction received by
children at college; no justice and no humanity in the treatment they
experienced; a fruitless and ridiculously prolonged study of words
succeeded by a no less fruitless study of interminable subtilties, and
all this fruitless knowledge driven into the brains of children by help
of chastisements, blows, and that barbarous severity which seems to
regard the Compelle intrare as the principal law and object of
instruction. How proceed, in such a state of things, to conceive a plan
of liberal, gentle, and reasonable education? Rabelais, in his book,
had begun by avoiding the danger of directly shocking received ideas;
by transporting both himself and his heroes to the regions of imagination
and extravagance he had set himself at liberty to bring them up in quite
a different fashion than that of his times; the rectors of colleges could
not pretend that Pantagruel, who was hardly born before he sucked down at
every meal the milk of four thousand six hundred cows, and for whose
first shirt there had been cut nine hundred ells of Chatellerault linen,
was a portrait of any of the little boys who trembled at their ferules.
. . . Pantagruel is in his cradle; he is bound and swathed in it like
all children at that time; but, ere long, Gargantua, his father,
perceives that these bands are constraining his movements, and that he is
making efforts to burst there; he immediately, by advice of the princes
and lords present, orders the said shackles to be undone, and lo!
Pantagruel is no longer uneasy. . . . And thus became he big and
strong full early. . . . There came, however, the time when his
instruction must begin. 'My will,' said Gargantua, 'is to hand him over
to some learned man for to indoctrinate him according to his capacity,
and to spare nothing to that end.' He, accordingly, put Pantagruel under
a great teacher, who began by bringing him up after the fashion of those
times. He taught him his charte (alphabet) to such purpose that he could
say it by heart backwards, and he was five years and three months about
it. Then he read with him Donotus and Facetus (old elementary works on
Latin grammar), and he was thirteen years, six months, and two weeks over
that. Then he read with him the De Modis significandi, with the
commentaries of Hurtebisius, Fasquin, and a heap of others, and he was
more than eighteen years and eleven months over them, and knew them so
well that he proved on his fingers to his mother that de modis
signifieandi non erat scientia. After so much labor and so many years,
what did Pantagruel know? Gargantua was no bigot: he did not shut his
eyes that he might not see, and he believed what his eyes told him. He
saw that Pantagruel worked very hard and spent all his time at it, and
yet he got no good by it. And what was worse, he was becoming daft,
silly, dreamy, and besotted through it. So Pantagruel was taken away
from his former masters and handed over to Ponocrates, a teacher of quite
a different sort, who was bidden to take him to Paris to make a new
creature of him and complete his education there. Ponocrates was very
careful not to send him to any college. Rabelais, as it appears, had a
special aversion for Montaigu College. 'Tempeste,' says he, 'was a great
boy-flogger at Montaigu College. If for flogging poor little children,
unoffending school-boys, pedagogues are damned, he, upon my word of
honor, is now on Ixion's wheel, flogging the dock-tailed cur that turns
it.' Pantagruel's education was now humane and gentle. Accordingly he
soon took pleasure in the work which Ponocrates was at the pains of
rendering interesting to him by the very nature and the variety of the
subjects of it. . . . Is it not a very remarkable phenomenon that at
such a time and in such a condition of public instruction a man should
have had sufficient sagacity not only to regard the natural sciences as
one of the principal subjects of study which ought to be included in a
course of education, but further to make the observation of nature the
basis of that study, to fix the pupil's attention upon examination of
facts, and to impress upon him the necessity of applying his knowledge by
studying those practical arts and industries which profit by such
applications? That, however, Rabelais did, probably by dint of sheer
good sense, and without having any notion himself about the wide bearing
of his ideas. Ponocrates took Pantagruel through a course of what we
should nowadays call practical study of the exact and natural sciences as
they were understood in the sixteenth century; but, at the same time, far
from forgetting the moral sciences, he assigns to them, for each day, a
definite place and an equally practical character. 'As soon as
Pantagruel was up,' he says, 'some page or other of the sacred Scripture
was read with him aloud and distinctly, with pronunciation suited to the
subject. . . . In accordance with the design and purport of this
lesson, he at frequent intervals devoted himself to doing reverence and
saying prayers to the good God, whose majesty and marvellous judgments
were shown forth in what was read. . . . When evening came, he and
his teacher briefly recapitulated together, after the manner of the
Pythagoreans, all that he had read, seen, learned, and heard in the
course of the whole day. They prayed to God the Creator, worshipping
Him, glorifying Him for his boundless goodness, giving Him thanks for all
the time that was past, and commending themselves to His divine mercy for
all that was to come. This done, they went to their rest.' And at the
end of this course of education, so complete both from the worldly and
the religious point of view, Rabelais shows us young Pantagruel living in
affectionate and respectful intimacy with his father Gargantua, who, as
he sees him off on his travels, gives him these last words of advice:
Science without conscience is nought but ruin to the soul; it behooves
thee to serve, love, and fear God. Have thou in suspicion the abuses of
the world; set not thine heart on vanity, for this life is transitory,
but the word of God abideth forever. Reverence thy teachers; flee the
company of those whom thou wouldest not resemble. . . . And when thou
feelest sure that thou hast acquired all that is to be learned yonder,
return to me that I may see thee and give thee my blessing ere I die.'"
After what was said above about the personal habits and the works of
Rabelais, these are certainly not the ideas, sentiments, and language one
would expect to find at the end and as the conclusion of his life and his
book. And it is precisely on account of this contrast that more space
has been accorded in this history to the man and his book than would in
the natural course of things have been due to them. At bottom and,
beyond their mere appearances the life and the book of Rabelais are a
true and vivid reflection of the moral and social ferment characteristic
of his time. A time of innovation and of obstruction, of corruption and
of regeneration, of decay and of renaissance, all at once. A deeply
serious crisis in a strong and complicated social system, which had been
hitherto exposed to the buffets and the risks of brute force, but was
intellectually full of life and aspiration, was in travail of a double
yearning for reforming itself and setting itself in order, and did
indeed, in the sixteenth century, attempt at one and the same time a
religious and a political reformation, the object whereof, missed as it
was at that period, is still at the bottom of all true Frenchmen's trials
and struggles. This great movement of the sixteenth century we are now
about to approach, and will attempt to fix its character with precision
and mark the imprint of its earliest steps.