La guerre de Troie rtaura pas lieu. Ce titre remet tout en question. Mais la guerre de Troie n'a pas lieu pour les raisons que l'on croyait ni dans les conditions que l'on suppose. Quoi encore? Jacques Heurgon. Oreste n'attend que les trois coups pour pousser ses rugissements. Vous vous rappelez cette devinette. Il faut toujours dans tout dilemme, opter pour l'humain. Although a decade ago, Michel-Chich went so far as to question whether children of Pieds-noirs bom in France were also Pieds-Noirs, today it seems mostly clear that they are not. Defined as they are those having lived in Algeria and who left as a result of the war , the Pieds- Noirs cannot include children who have experienced a sort of vicarious exile from mainstream France.
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This is doubtlessly a result of the disappearing stigma in France of being Pied-Noir that was heavy in the 60s and early 70s when much of the second generation was bom. The lack of understanding or interest from their own children, however, often makes the Pieds-Noirs even more desperate to share their experience. Because of the fear of not being heard, Pied-Noir autobiographies are ever increasing on the market of historical literature. For the specific history of the Pieds- Noirs, it is largely accepted that they should speak for themselves. Seuls les Pieds-Noirs peuvent legitimement parler de leur vie quotidienne en Algerie, et raconter ce que furent les faits, grands et petits, qui en ont constitue la trame.
They are, in fact, encouraged that someone outside of their community is taking an interest in what they have to say. The need to convey their history is perhaps overcoming their sense o f protection of their past. As long as the Pieds-Noirs dominate the historical market maintaining authority over Algeria and their work is not questioned even as it is produced now forty years after the war and often written as autobiography, the history of Algeria will remain obscured.
What this means is that Pied-Noir histories or even Algerian histories that are written in an autobiographical style meant to represent the entire Pied-Noir 42 Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. This critical look at the history of the war in specific has larger reaching applications for the history of Algeria on the whole because much of what the Pieds-Noirs have written has passed into history as a result of the immediate silence surrounding the war and because of the current popularity of this subject.
In their work, Manceron and Remaoun point out the dangers of memory serving as history: II est certes indispensable de cultiver la memoire de certains faits essentiels du passe, mais ne faut-il pas aussi prendre des precautions? The danger o f history lies in that it can silence memory and even emphasize a certain form of forgetting, as we have seen in the discussion of the Algerian War.
As Stora 34 Cf. This method of needlework is founded on a progressive motion of return which continually leads the author to a preceding referent each time it takes a step towards the future. The first part of the dissertation focuses on returns that the Pieds-Noirs undertake individually and collectively through memory, writing and physical return. Beginning then from what is most recent towards what lies behind, the first chapter will focus on physical returns, which have traditionally been viewed as the end solution for attenuating nostalgia, and then the dissertation will progress backwards towards imagined returns and the foundation of Pied-Noir identity.
Whereas the work on returns is centered on the more abstract relationship to Algeria that the Pieds-Noirs maintain in the present, the second part of the dissertation demonstrates the compulsion to repeat more directly as the manifestation of a rupture with the past. This part of the dissertation investigates repetition as it plays out through literary and psychological techniques.
Part one begins with an exploration of Pied-Noir identity as it lies in motion between France and Algeria. Many Pieds-Noirs return to Algeria with the hope of renewing contact with their homeland and during the process visit the past like tourists, without seeing the present of Algeria without them.
Instead, the trip serves as a sort of comparison with their memories and of those of their compatriots. As it is impossible to return to the past, the Pieds- Noirs are more accurately participating in an archeological dig without recognizing that their community no longer inhabits Algeria as the dominant class. The Pieds-Noirs often portray themselves as half French and half Algerian as a means o f gaining authority in postcolonial France.
This complicated position of dual inclusion has been chosen as a position of authority for most Pieds-Noirs, yet some have chosen instead to demonstrate their identity through a process of exclusions. In the second part of the dissertation, repetition is demonstrated as both a literary and psychological technique that seeks to create stability while recasting history.
Because of the immediate official silence that met the Pieds-Noirs after the Algerian war, the group sought to put forth their version of the story. On the contrary, through the compulsion to repetition, which is in Freudian psychoanalysis an indication of a repressed trauma, the present is almost completely eclipsed with memories of the past. For Cardinal repetition functions as a practice of a committing to memory, until one acceptable version of her past is performed in her entire oeuvre. As the author attempts to master her past, this practice, then, effectively replaces recollection.
Qz donne un melange avec le ciel bleu. Ds ont oublie quelque chose? He has exposed their nostalgia as blindness and their returns as pitiful 49 Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Through the open eyes of the Algerians, the author is able to clearly evoke their varying political views towards the Pieds-Noirs from welcome to disgust. Return in Pied-Noir narratives is perpetual. As often as the Pieds-Noirs return to their past the need to repeat this return orally, figuratively, or physically indicates an inability of arriving at the destination of the past or to the origins of their newly founded identity.
Y et the majority of Pieds-Noirs as well as their critics believe that return, especially physical return, is a necessary aspect for the healing of the Pied-Noir psyche. Most who undertake these physical returns do so with the belief that they can arrive at Algeria. This chapter will uncover return as beneficial to the Pieds-Noirs for its destabilizing nature. As Homi Bhabha points out in the introduction to The Location o f Culture: What is theoretically innovative, and politically crucial, is the need to think beyond narratives of originary and initial subjectivities and to focus on those moments or processes that are produced in the articulation of cultural differences.
Return has a primary strategy o f creating stability 50 Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Bhabha posits that potential lies in the motion or process of return, rather than in the tiring effort to arrive at a point for which there is no precise location. Through a look at the slippage between present and past in the physical returns of the Pieds-Noirs, especially focusing on the process of return rather than at arrivals, this chapter will hope to demonstrate the absence o f origins and destinations in the Pied-Noir returns.
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While many Pieds-Noirs prefer to remain with undisturbed memories, some decide to make a return voyage to Algeria, often as a result of a psychological need or a terrible compulsion to reconcile the past with their present. She identifies physical return as a cure for the invasive nostalgia that often limits Pieds-Noirs from progressing in their personal development and integration in France: Le voyage en Algerie constitue un moment marquant pour le pied-noir qui le fait, une etape dans la reconstruction permanente de son equilibre, un repit dans la bousculade des souvenirs et, souvent, un apaisement de la nostalgie maladive dont il souffre depuis The Pied-Noir who returns to Algeria tries to gather evidence of a society that is now extinct In fact, they often express their fear that they are becoming extinct, but they have yet to realize that their existence in Algeria is completed.
Reckoning with the evidence and the lack thereof of a civilization once led by the Pieds-Noirs is a moment of confronting identity. Michel-Chich believes that this return will bring a sense of relief and fulfillment that does not come from writing alone. From an optimistic viewpoint, Dr. Maurice Porot finds that return can offer a different sort of revelation to the Pied-Noir who remains in a nostalgic state. Rather than experiencing a reconnection with the homeland, the Pied-Noir may discover the reality of an Algerian present without colonial influence: II est absolument indispensable pour les Pieds-Noirs de retoumer voir leur pays.
Les Pieds-Noirs qui vont en Algerie se rendent compte a quel point ils ont tout embelli et magnifie dans leurs souvenirs. Un pays pour moi lointain mais que mes parents pleurent Compatir et comprendre. Ses participants vivent une existence de touristes et ne prennent pas pied dans la realite quotidienne du pays nouveau. Ce sable. Cette cote. Ces dunes. Je ne les ai jamais quittes.
What Lanta adds to the concept of satisfaction in returns is the ephemeral aspect of the pleasure. Hureau notes that multiple returns are often necessary. It is not to Algeria that the Pied-Noir truly wants to arrive, rather only to a point where imagination o f Algeria can be renewed and appear continuous. In addition to the need to continually renew with Algeria, Hureau equally points out the collectivity of the return for the Pieds-Noirs which further impedes them from seeing the present Many Pieds-Noirs who are able to return often do so with obligations to the Pied-Noir community on the whole and these obligations weigh on what is revisited and how it is seen.
With the obligation of return on the part of others, it is nearly impossible for the Pieds- Noirs who make the physical return to truly investigate the new country of Algeria. With these motivations for return at hand, Hureau poses an even greater question. What will the Pied-Noir identity be in relation to its former Other now that the French are no longer in the superior position? As the author has shown, the Pieds-Noirs, in fact, may be blind to their reception in Algeria.
If the Pieds-Noirs were to recognize it, the shift in power may cause those who return to entirely reevaluate their identity, which is most likely why they do not see the present Algeria when they make the return to their homeland. It is evidenced, however, by a continual slippage in view of Algeria throughout their reflections on the return voyage. In effect, Cardinal performs a mission of testing her memory and nostalgia against a so-called reality of Algeria without ever completely understanding Algeria has changed.
She effectively visits a past-present Algeria that is in-between reality and fiction. As a result of this awkward voyage, 56 Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Une certitude plutot. More interesting than her decision that she still loves Algeria, however, is the process by which she came to this conclusion.
Even before this travelogue, in Autrement dit Cardinal began expressing this anxiety: Je pense souvent a cet abordage de ma terre. Rather, her fear is of 57 Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. As she says from the outset of her work, she is returning to renew the Algerian part of her, to confront the past, rather than the present Because she is afraid to return by herself, she asks her youngest daughter, Benedicte Ronfard, to accompany her on this trip her third child is the only one who has not been to Algeria and she adds her own travelogue at the end of Au pays entitled Au pays de Moussia.
The anxiety that Cardinal faces in making her preparations, however, is not enough to dissuade her. She is afraid to discover that her Nostalgerie although she denies she is nostalgic is not reality and that perhaps she does not need Algeria as much as she has believed. Although she must return to remember who she is and was, Cardinal realizes that this experience will leave her even further alienated from her identity as a Pied-Noir constructed in reference to a past life.
Once she returns she will lose the capacity to control Algeria in her memory as a comfort zone. She must recognize its independence from her as well as her own independence from the country. It is this potential shift in power that produces the anxiety in the author. Cardinal, however, never overtly recognizes the inability to return to the past. Instead, she struggles with certain changes in the country and various emotions of guilt and pride. The author tries to navigate her present position in the country as a foreigner in relationship to her residual image of past dominance.
According to psychologist Dr. Barbara A. Every time some portion of the old image is remembered, feelings, thoughts, and behavior are influenced to some degree. Our past has been transported to the present. Our outward expressions are guided by this old image. The return she undertakes is more than physical; it is also temporal. While it is clear that the return voyage changes her during the process, Cardinal never arrives at a point o f accepting her own independence from Algeria.
In this sense, she, too, is colonized. Her outward expression her writing is guided by this old image. In the first nostalgic moment of rewriting her past in Au pays de mes racines 59 Reproduced with permission o f the copyright owner. Tres peu. Je 60 Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner.
Bonjour ma mere, ma soeur, mon amie. Where Algeria is better, it is also the same. This strategy allays her fears of a second loss. Much like Hureau suggests in her work, Cardinal does not immediately see the changes that have taken place. Her residual image of Algeria dominates what she sees causing her to forego the present Algeria all together. Les souvenirs affluent a une vitesse vertigineuse. Mais tout cela ne me bouleverse pas. Ce sont des souvenirs, et, curieusement, ils me mettent en gaiete. She begins to recognize the changes that have taken place, socially and architecturally, but she repeats that she is unmoved by these modifications.
For example, she pretends not to care that Arabs are living in and destroying French homes, even her own: 61 Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Surement pas des Arabes. Mon indifference me surprend un p e u. The repetition of her lack of curiosity tips us off to her deception. If it were indeed the case that Cardinal had no desire to return, evidently she would not have made this trip to Algeria.
Instead she is beginning to confront both the pain of the past and that o f the present. To preempt these painful feelings she refuses to revisit certain monuments o f her past. Rather than claiming indifference as a motive in not returning, this time Cardinal pretends she has no more desire to return to her past. Instead, France not explicitly comes to the understanding of the displacement of the past 62 Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Qa me parait malsain. Her list is so long that she leaves her reader with little doubt of the fact that the return to the farm would simply be too painful an endeavor.
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It is almost immediately after this decision that Cardinal claims she no longer wants or needs to write down every experience of this voyage and she nearly abandons her journal The slippage in her expressed desire and undesire for return evidences the impossibility of going back to what she once knew. This step is quite common among Pieds-Noirs, both in oral and physical returns. Cardinal here furthers a stereotype of Arab men and Islam without allowing room for analysis and without considering the present social and cultural context.
She does not even consider that she may appear out of place in the new context of Algeria or that perhaps she is unwelcome. Yet again, in seeing their independence, Cardinal inserts herself back into the country with her final statement. Qa me fascine, mais aussi? As she begins to see Algeria as continuing without her, it is at this point that she begins to admit her regrets and to see that she can never return to her place of birth: Plus les jours passent, plus je me rends compte que mon voyage prend un tour inattendu.
She has found the country and her memories intact, she is filled with satisfaction, and she is destabilized in the process o f discovering the newness of Algeria. As seen above, the author once again analyzes the present from her own perspective and never objectively observes the new country. She constantly rewrites Algeria, layering herself upon it, only investigating her relationship to the country and its present. As she tries to find stability in her return to the free country, she practices control in her writing as a result of her residual image as colonizer.
In this process, however, she comes to an end confronted with the instability between present and past in Algeria. Now that she believes she has returned, there is no need for the stabilizing effect of nostalgia. Un present qui ressemble aux champs fleuris de mon enfance: je ne sais plus penser, il y a trop de choses nouvelles, trop de reflexions possibles.
She arrives at a present that resembles her past but she never manages to write the differences between memory and reality. Instead she cuts 66 Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Perhaps out of obligation to maintaining the religious memory of Algeria, the author does not feel at liberty to elaborate the present state of the country for her readers. At the end o f her trip, Cardinal does not want to leave and she does not want to stay.
She is caught in-between desire and fear, idealization and realization of Algeria. She begins to remember that Algeria was both a paradise and a hell for her. Personne ne rendra la vie aux cadavres entasses du carrefour. Her memory now works in-between both France and Algeria and not only between the past and the present. As long as Cardinal continues to reserve parts of the past as her territory, or in other words, as long as she continues to colonize certain pieces of the Algerian soil even if only in preserved memories, the author will never be able to move beyond her identity as a Pied-Noir.
Cardinal, even up to her death, continually returned to those reserved places of her past, drawing them back to the forefront only under her complete control and authority.
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As we will see in the following chapters, even after this return, Cardinal continued to repeat her past in writing, thereby sustaining her control over the lost colony. Ruins of the Past in Au pays de mes racines Although Cardinal demonstrates in her works that she believes it is possible to return to Algeria, her confidence is betrayed in both her own contradictions and in her recognition of other histories and other peoples that preceded hers on the same land. Other pasts represented by ruins recognize past rulers whose reign has ended.
La ville est grande. Combien de Romains? Pas seulement des soldats, mais aussi des citoyens surement, des hommes, des femmes, avec leurs enfants. Des paysans, des boutiquiers. Une ville comme une autre faite pour que des gens y vivent. Au pays It is almost as though she were seeing the 68 Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Whereas these ruins indicate a time beyond return, Cardinal still pushes towards her own ruins of the past: Les colonnades paraissent extremement hautes et longues a force de ne plus rien supporter.
Au pays , emphasis added This recollection of past ruins that represented a dead conqueror is symbolic of the ruins Cardinal would uncover of her own dead civilization. The leftover columns, once functional, are anachronistic monuments that now serve to remind of parallel pasts. Although this important memory is clearly paralleled with the fall of the French colonial rule, Cardinal makes no direct connection between the ruins of a past before hers and her own ruins she was about to encounter in Algeria. Instead, as we have seen, throughout her travels in Algeria, Cardinal strives to reconnect the past to the present and to forgo the prime changes in the country during her absence.
Throughout Au pays de mes racines Cardinal seems to be on the brink of understanding that her past no longer exists in Algeria. At the same time, the author feels compelled to believe that everything is still the same. While she walks through the ruins of her past in Algeria, she strains to see the ghosts of that past as real figures.
The slippage of past and present also comes clear in her preparations for her return to Algeria. Whereas in the past Cardinal was always influenced by an elsewhere, in the present she is stunned by that same outside force that marks her. It is clear here that Cardinal does not understand the past to be a foreign country8 and that she must be from an elsewhere in order to make a return. In spite o f markers, familiarities, or recognitions, there are only ruins of the past.
The former occupants are indeed blind to the ruins of the past to which the present occupants are well attuned: Hanifa et les femmes ont brasquement cesse leur badinage, elles observent en silence Paulo et sa tante. II lui raconte que les immeubles sont blancs. Que tout est beau. La vielle, elle ne voit pas. II ne veut pas lui faire de peine, surencherit Hannane. Zohra, la voisine du quatrieme, compatissante, approuve Paulo. Le ciel est vraiment bleu In fact, this scene doubly returns the Pied-Noir as the women turn their desire on the nephew, Paolo, hence returning the colonial gaze.
Instead these returns are constantly displaced. Through the concept of ruins, the two authors express the destabilizing nature of returns. Each piece of the past, each monument that is revisited in the present cannot have the same meaning as it did before. These monuments are, in fact, an anachronistic repetition that changes with each time it appears. After filming these varied pseudo-returns, the two 71 Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Toumer les mots retells the returns while exploring the importance o f the intranslatability of film into book and past into present.
Intranslatability also indicates the impossibility of pinning down a location in film and book as the location is always ailleurs as a result of its past. Derrida expresses this impossibility as a result of the multiplicity of identity throughout time. The authors have a project of returning to locations of nostalgia in order to destabilize the fixedness of these imagined places: - Vous dites que le film toume autour.
Ou ailleurs. In effect, they go back to the places as part of the process of demonstrating the inability to return. Not only have the street names changed, but the entire context of 9 The author cannot return for the fear of risking his life. Derrida did return to Algeria prior to this film, however, in ,, and in Only the woman who now lives in the home is able to recognize the photo and confirm that it is the same house. Interestingly, it is only from the present that the identification of the past is found in spite of the changing nature of the ruins. Apart from the changing context of the home, even the changed present political situation contributes to the difficulty in placing the home.
The present occupants, most of their family having left Algeria because o f their intellectual activity and fear o f persecution, are unwelcoming, making Fathy and her assistant stand in the doorway rather than allowing them to enter. As Fathy waits there she notices that many large and terrifying dogs are allowed to go in and out of the house while she and her party are clearly not welcome. Furthermore, the author notes that the occupants now speak yet another foreign language Bulgarian , distancing the present even more from the past and making the location even more inaccessible.
All of these changes produced in the present create a new context of Algeria - one that is foreign from the past and one that does not recall the past existence because the member of the past Derrida is not present to make the connection. Yet, in spite of this disjunction between present and past, shards of ruins will still be relayed to Derrida in the end who will have the choice to reassemble the artifacts in his viewing. In the entryway to the home, there is one point where the star-like tile pattern is broken as one piece of the image had been inserted upside down.
As he expresses to Fathy, he, like the tile, is destabilized and destabilizing. His present and presence serve to disrupt the unity represented there. Derrida, too, wants to demonstrate the impossibility of fixing himself on the screen as he exists in multiple copies. The one fixed on the screen perturbs an infinite pattern. It is already a ruin of what now exists.
Like the inability of fixing one version of himself or of committing oneself to the screen, 74 Reproduced with permission o f the copyright owner. Derrida can return neither to one Algeria nor to one self of the past in Algeria. In fact, there were many Derridas and many Algerias. The tile that remains in the house is a ruin that represents the un-fixedness of the past, the antidote to nostalgia, a disruption rather than a unification of the pattern. More than being just emblematic of the author, however, this tile also comes into play in the understanding of the past and of memory.
Aussi loin que je puisse imaginer. Cemauvais carrelage, apres soixante ans, reste bien la, survivant. Qui est ce carreau? Derrida The tile is emblematic of the ruins that hold different values at any given time in history. The columns seem strangely out o f place now that they no longer support walls. Even as they survive time and appear as stable features of a location, they stand with no purpose but to recall the pasts.
They are now unfixed and slipping figures whose meaning changes with time. Ruins recall an absence. These changes in perspective, context, and access serve to further the project of destabilization of return. Clearly the author can never really return to Algeria. Derrida is foreign to this new locale and to its representation. As a result of these shifts in motives, presence, inside and outside, and in power, only the dizzying motion of return or turning remains. While Derrida never meant to make this return trip, he eventually experiences a sort of turning to what is now a very foreign country.
This ailleurs or elsewhere an ever-shifting location is even further from the author because of the experience o f viewing his return as a documentary in which he participates but only abstractly with voice only , at least for the Algerian segment. This visual return made upon his behalf is rendered impossible because of the changing of time and perspective. The house no longer exists as it was but its image recalls meanings of the past For Derrida, the sense of ruin is even greater a supplemental displacement because he did not physically return, nor did he even direct the return.
Value has been evacuated from the past as he passively viewed a return that, like a souvenir, was just a shard o f a ruin. Comment ai- je pu me laisser surprendre a ce point, si imprudemment? The author only experienced a sliver of a ruin, in effect, a ruin of the ruin, as the smells, sounds, and texture of his former homeland are reduced into a two-dimensional viewing over which he has little control except over his access to it.
As demonstrated in Toumer les mots and Au pays de mes racines, it is impossible to arrive at this elsewhere and any initiative to do so will be full of contradictions and frustrations as only ruins of the past are uncovered. If all that remains from return, then, is the motion since the location is no longer fixed , we might question what the movement of return might provide.
Et toujours mal, 78 Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Recognizing the impossibility because of the now displaced location of the past, allows the foreigner to live with a back strong with the past, knowing the future is derived from what once was. It is through the motion of return, as it will be displayed in the imagined and written returns of the Pieds-Noirs, that the foreigner finds strength to continue the impossible journey.
Returning to Algeria through literature is a way of creating stability and o f continuing the Pied-Noir colonial identity that was always established in relationship to a symbolic elsewhere first towards France then towards Algeria. Through continual revisiting of the past, Algeria has become fixed as a paradisiacal point of reference and the location of unattainable desire. It is the eternal absent destination for many Pieds-Noirs and its value is as an undisturbed utopian memory. As the Pieds-Noirs have shifted their point of origins from France to Algeria in their re patriation, written and imagined returns function to reinforce the motion implied in their identity.
Return narratives are particularly important in articulating Pied-Noir identity because they work to reaffirm an instable position, giving a semblance of fixedness through their reiteration. Furthermore, through the nostalgic re-elaboration of their existence in Algeria, the Pieds-Noirs are able to join a community. Nostalgia writing allows the Pieds-Noirs gain a sense of stability and continuity all while sustaining a fiction of their past.
As we have already seen that the physical return does not attenuate the nostalgia for Algeria, this chapter will explore the imagined returns oral and written for their contribution to the Pied-Noir community. In the perpetual motion of returning to the 80 Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Although most Pieds-Noirs desire to continue this paradisiacal discourse as a part of their contribution to collective memory, some have also managed to uncover Algeria in their memories as a hell. Because they have been perpetually enclosed in a discourse o f continuing a fictive Algeria at which they can never arrive, Algeria represents a painful and endless torture for some Pied-Noir writers.
This disillusionment only sustains the cycle of return implied in Pied-Noir identity. As a result of their relationship to a mythical elsewhere, whether that be France or Algeria, the Pieds-Noirs will always pursue nostalgia back and forth across the Mediterranean and from present to past. For the Pieds- Noirs, that unlaid ghost, or fictional element to which they continually must return, is their now absent Algeria.
This phantom continually reappears in their oral and written memories as an unfixed location towards which they perpetually move. This need to bring the past into the present may take various forms or present itself in various symptoms. Often for the Pieds-Noirs, return begins as a compulsive act to verbally repeat their lost past or to repeatedly remember certain parts of their history.
It then is sustained through writing and sometimes culminates in a physical return to Algeria before the cycle begins again. Return for the Pieds-Noirs is an important aspect o f their identity as a displaced people. The act of continually returning to Algeria through oral and written accounts offers the exile a sense o f stability and reattachment to the past.
Joelle Hureau in La Memoire des Pieds-Noirs explains that returning to the past is essential as a means of creating continuity and permanence. Such an efflorescence, bursting the more suddenly at last for a long and secret saturation of the soil, is not to be explained : we only affirm it by saying that a few great men, and many ex- ceptionally endowed, then gave their energies to poetry. For if the artistic aptitudes of a race and of its speech — the in- fallible reflexion of a race — are never permanently modified unless by conquest, it is the apparition of genius that from time to time reveals them fully.
They are barren at moments of convulsion, in ages of extreme lassitude and of little men ; in others fashion, the pride of perfect imitation, starving certain faculties to glut the rest, inflicts a onesided — at first sometimes a salutary — discipline upon the formal conditions of the effort to create. But a dozen masterpieces would suffice to prove an abiding possibility.
If we go back to the start of that long period in which all but the entire imaginative literature of Western Europe either belonged to them, or bore witness to the restlessness of their blood and the attraction of their delectable tongue, at the very gates of that age-long dominion we find the most constant moulds of French verse, with some constitutional virtues of French art, and the instincts and ideals to which this people is perpetually returning, already manifest in three anonymous poems composed, or re-com- posed, during the eleventh century — and that is full two hundred years before the land was welded into one polity again, and longer still before the idiom of the Royal Demesne had evicted its near neighbours of the langue d'o'il.
Oil hoc Mud was ' yes ' in them all, as oc was ' yes ' in the dialects of Southern France which we call generically Provencal Gascon, Limousin, Catalan and the speech of the old Roman Provincia. They have all three in common a humanity which tends to neglect everything on earth but human life ; a bias of interest that ever shuns the unsociable theme; a sane precision and tenacity of sensuous apprehension, reproduc- ing each event in its real order and without method hitting the mark of a rigorous composition ; that sort of probity which abhors inorganic ornament and clouds of speech, and forbids the irrelevant irruption of the dreamer into the tale of his dream; continuity, the instinct which sustains one pitch, one gait, and powerfully helps illusion ; — and a rhythm above all, a rhythm clear, robust, and supple, that to this day commands the native voice.
The pomp and subtlety of the classical measures feebly perpetuated by the gaunt bookishness of cloisters, the dying echo of the swinging choruses so much more Roman! The poems I have spoken of were stories, not what we call songs. Saint Alexis 1 was written and read ; the others and the whole innumerable class of poems recording heroic feats, and afterwards adventures in love as well as war, were composed for recitation— in ' fyttes ' containing down to a certain period in the history of narrative poetry a variable 1 The poem is in assonance, not rime; but it is arranged in regular stanzas of five lines.
Assonance is the repetition of a vowel-sound rime the repetition of a vowel-sound and any consonant sounds that may follow. It is a pedant's assumption that assonance is older than rime, and gradually became rime. Very likely they existed side by side, appropriated to distinct needs, from the r first. For compositions uniform in measure, in which the succession of yoked lines might be prolonged at the discretion or according to the resources of the poet, assonance, striking the ear so often, was enough: it was enough, besides, to sustain the minstrel's memory, while the difference of a tone perhaps in his monotonous psalmody, gave salience to the last strong syllable of each line.
Rime, which we find developed at a date even earlier than that of Saint Alexis and the Pilgrimage in their definitive form, 1 may very well have been preferred, even at first, for lyrics in the proper sense. What were the lyrics of this early time? Learned men can tell us. They have shown that in the heyday of epical creation, the French love-song, made like the first epics for the whole people, but the solace and delight especially of women, flourished all over the north. Little is left but names. From scarce fragments, from many burdens that have survived to grace the lyrics of later days, from the songs of other countries — Italy, Germany, Spain — on which French models then exercised an appreciable influence, it may be conjectured that the lyrical output in this first age was rich, of delicate workmanship, extremely varied in form, and not devoid of sincerity and tenderness, but not very personal, tending often to dramatise a scanty assortment of situations, and seldom or never reflecting the absorption or the spiritual violence of passion.
For the love of woman 1 The fragment of an Alexandre by Alberio de Besangon eleventh cen- tury is in stanzas of octosyllables which unquestionably are intended to rime, and generally do. The phase was short : French art took what it could assimilate, and rejected the rest. Neither its fundamental lucidity, its rude health, nor its conception of inanimate nature as above all a source of metaphors, was modified by contact with kindred but less disciplined peoples. A more dangerous infection came from the South, which the Crusades and the two Courts of Queen Eleanor 2 re- vealed in its seductive radiance and nimbleness to the hard- living nobles of Maine and Anjou, Picardy and England.
While the feudal idea froze and became mechanical and barren, and what had been the national epic turned gradually to heartless spinning of wonders and compliant genealogies, the French lyric, steeped in the refinement of Provence and Aquitaine, lent itself humbly to the elaborate rhetoric, the shallow multiplicity of trifling variations, all the erotic and oftener Platonio casuistry of the troubadours.
It was a period of essential triviality out of which, however, French verse was to emerge more agile and more buoyant, able therefore to carry, later on, a more solid cargo with the better grace. Among the courtly poets a few names Blondel, Conon de B6thune, King Tybalt of Navarre, Gace Brusle have floated down to us, the names of diligent crafts- men, inexhaustible weavers of rimes and riddles ; — for their appeal, superficially to the senses, is really to an intellectual 1 Beroul's, and that of Thomas an Anglo-French poem , are the best known : neither is complete. We have lost the Tristan of Chretien de Troyes, the most famous of those trouvires who treated by preference ' la matiere de Bretagne ' — a prolix and minute narrator, but a delicate maker of verse.
Her daughters were the Countesses of Champagne and of Blois, both brilliant patronesses of the courtly poets. And the dependence of gallantry upon dialectic at this period is illustrated even by a poem apparently so distant in its inspiration from the mellifluous debates of courtly triflers as the famous Roraaunt of the Rose. Guillaume de Lorris intends his part the better in that prodigious allegory for a pleasant manual of the amorous code, while in fact he draws his matter, the interplay of abstractions which his robust and delicate talent often con- trives to colour with life, from the psychology of the schools.
It marks the shifting of poetical interest from castles to walled towns, that Jean de Meung, his verbose and encyclo- paedic successor, whose virtue consists in his irrelevance, should have addressed a public accustomed to misogynous diatribes and the abuse of idle magnates and covetous monks. Not the courts, indeed, but cities where the mental energy of the race accumulated, supply the rare oases in a great waste of insignificance. Arras, in the busy, fertile and quarrelsome North, could boast of Jean Bodel, a man of parts who tried his hand at every sort of writing, Adam le Bossu or Adam de la Hale, the hardly less versatile author of Robin et Marion, which is a lyrical diversion of prime quality cast in dialogue.
And a far greater man than either, Rutebeuf, is a Parisian from Champagne. Mtutebeuf, a master of deep and sounding satire who saw the seamy side of Saint Lewis's reign, an artist who commanded the resources of a language still in flux, used rime unfalteringly and invented durable measures, maybe called the first excellent French poet whose name we possess ; the first at least who made poetry with his heart, out of his faith, his failures and follies, and pity for himself and all the world.
A sort of minstrel by trade, dependent on the great who were even then tiring of their fine-spun amorists, and forced sometimes to hire out his real piety to their compunctions if it is true that Thdophile, a masterpiece of the religious drama, and the admirable life of S. Mary of Egypt, were written for patrons , he is the earliest articulate type of the literary proletariat in Paris. Unclassed, he had something for all the classes in the realm. His code 8 A CENTURY OF FRENCH POETS is chivalrous, his vision mystical ; but by his rich laugh, his grasp on palpable realities and turn for moralising, he adheres to the ' burgess literature,' and is near its favourite purveyors — the chroniclers of Reynard the Fox, the authors of the Fabliaux, 1 who had never a Boccaccio nor a Chaucer among them though in a sense both spring from them , but who, besides standing at the head of a fine tradition, and expressing in the frank irreverence of their salted imaginations something elemental in the national temper, do now and again attain the perfection of narrative by the thrift and haste and vivacity of their speech.
Rutebeuf in the thirteenth century beacons to Francois Villon in the fifteenth, with only the nicker of sundry rush- lights searching the gloomy tract between them, except where, close behind Villon but just off the spiritual highway, Duke Charles of Orleans irradiates the sum of many nothings with a retrospective glow. With the long list of versifiers who bear witness to the decomposition of mediaeval society, the science of language and the history of manners are principally concerned : their best perhaps might furnish out a score of pages that should contain only deft and pointed and melodious lines.
It is enough to name Guillaume de Machaut, who could play the perfect suitor according to ancestral rules, but is reputed for having inaugurated the new manner consisting in an exact replenishment of rhythmical honeycombs from a store of indifferent words; Froissart, as empty and graceful in rime as he is rough and pithy in prose; Eustache des Champs, so grave, abundant and sententious ; the pettifogging Coquillart, Alain Chartier whom a queen kissed and his compeers valued for learning and prudent counsel, and Christine de Pisan, an amiable bluestocking and excellent Frenchwoman in spite of her Italian birth.
For all these and their satellites, and all their line, the Meschinots and Molinets and Cretins, which lasted well into the sixteenth century, the great affair apparently was to deliver poetry from the scandal of frivolity 1 It is hopeleHs to try to restore the real French form of the word fableau, which the dialectical fabliau has long since ousted. In general they are more sincere than the courtiers before them, in so far as their matter is of larger — sometimes indeed of national — interest.
Prodigal of fine bookish maxims as their predecessors were full of precious sentiments, several of them display the genuine though confused and patchy erudition achieved with an abortive revival of learning under the elder Valois. They are disputatious and didactic, in an age when ver- nacular prose already offered a more effective vehicle for wisdom and enquiry. They are hypnotised by the example of sustained personifications left by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meung : visions and allegories are an indispensable part of their stock-in-trade.
As for their form, they have exchanged the sane if often childish joy in free invention for the pride of a complicated framework — the bare ribs of a starved and juiceless poetry. Tradition is a slippery word : but it is doing no injustice to Charles of Orleans, the ineffectual hope of a national royalty, the not inconsolable prisoner of Windsor and Groombridge, and a prince, when all is said, too suave and too placable for honour, to describe his work and influence, which deviate from the larger destinies of French literature, as a return essentially to the refined tradition of the twelfth and thirteenth conturies.
To be sure he is a master of the fixed forms elaborated by more recent generations, and three quarters of his matter is an analysis of fashionable metaphor, a perfunctory attempt to galvanise the soulless abstractions which fascinated his times. But he is no preacher, his subtleties are all sentimental, his verbal con- scientiousness revolts against the servile excellence accessible to the machinery of iteration, and in a word his work is aristocratic in the most familiar sense.
What is entirely his own is the fluid sweetness-, the disencumbered gait, the nonchaloir which history reads tragically, a delicious language, unpedantic, personal in its novelties and archaisms, and so perfectly apt to evoke the fugitive vision of happy glades and silver brooks — but especially his fortunate gift of lighting upon themes to which their very echo lends an 10 A CENTURY OF FRENCH POETS adventitious value, the illusion of a melancholy meaning. Remembering that his mother was a Visconti of Milan, and that his son was to lead a French host into Italy, we think of him too readily as a precursor of the French Renaissance.
He is much more truly, by virtue of his lovable shallowness, detachment and vague, fanciful gallantry, the last of the feudal patron-poets, and assuredly the worthiest. After him the Southern fever, which had survived the lancet of the Albigensian wars, made no more distinguished efforts, in the guise of chivalry, to capture the national genius. Villon may very probably have been an occasional client of the Duke's. Why does he seem not thirty or forty, but hundreds of years nearer to us?
Because, for one thing, he was so much more frankly the child of his own moment, engrossed by the actuality of fugitive, intensely real im- pressions, and alive through them. In the lurid twilight into which he was born, to hob and nob with death had a delirious fascination for the haggard fancy of men; and even the sane and lusty spirit of this wastrel, tramp, chamberer and cut-throat riming under the shadow of the scaffold, was harried by churchyard thoughts and haunted with the palpable image of decay, so that his verse, for all its vitality and fragrance, shares the sinister obsession of a hopeless people, tossed between hunger and pestilence and guile and rapine.
He transcends it : the peculiar resonance Villon lends to the natural man's outcry at the menace of decrepitude and extinction, is not merely an effect of the precision with which his exasperated senses perceive their very horror : his certitude of the common doom is the more acute for the yearnings of a wistful imagination excited by illustrious names and condemned to feed on its own hunger. Where are Flora and stout Charlemagne? If what follows seems a little fanciful, what shall be said of those who insist on reading the rhetorical question in the famous Ballade as a sort of confession of unfaith?
And Villon, while he revives one of the eternal commonplaces of all poetry, touches for the first time that modern chord of a nostalgic regret for the antiquity of the ancients, and because the past is past. The man was an imperfect artist, writing disjoin tedly, using a hieratic framework, mixing the gross and the grotesque with the poignant everywhere. But his power to express himself once and for all is equal to the new and extreme exigencies of a boundless candour. Of one French measure at least, the ancient octosyllable, he discovered for himself all the deep resources ; and whoever compares the Grant Testament with Hugo's Songs of the Streets and the Woods will grant that the virtuosity of the modern master goes no further than Villon's in varying the speed and shift- ing the pauses.
He knew also the need of varying the pace of thought, the value of alternate leisureliness and density. He is the first French poet with whom imagery, the giving a sensuous form to ideas, is spontaneous and not a device of rhetoric. Finally none had possessed before him that sure sense of the prestige of words, and perpetual spring of verbal invention, of which perhaps it is a condition that the speech shall be already venerable, and still changing rapidly.
For us, Villon is both the capital figure among the elder poets of his race, and the head of an illustrious line : for his contemporaries he was a disreputable exception. His com- rades and successors, the canting rhymsters of the ' repues franches,' were only capable of repeating the trivial acces- sories of his personal and lonely song ; and the considerable interval between his day and Marot's is filled with the turgid emptiness of an effete chivalry, the slender versified garrulity of selfish and earthly-minded citizens. Meantime the nation slowly shook off its nightmare, and its fits of falling sickness were followed by the distemper of a second adolescence.
The desire of knowledge was rekindled in men of books; Burgundy, spared by alliance with the English invaders, had kept alive the tradition of an indigenous manner in sculp- ture and painting, and now transmitted beyond her borders 12 A CENTURY OF FRENCH POETS the secret of a deliberate grace of line, an Attic sobriety and luminous decision of gesture which are the household virtues of the Primitifs ; in Burgundy too, and Artois and Picardy and the Walloon country, music was born again ; the Paris students learned Greek; French farce, in this the age of decadence for the grave religious drama, gave its master- pieces to holiday crowds in the great cities ; French prose was acquiring coherence, proportions and ductility, and the spoils of Roman eloquence had fairly begun to fill the gaps of language which a larger way of living and thinking made apparent.
But in the midst of this native ferment there was an almost absolute stagnation of French poetry, gravelled by fashion and authority. Men were still wanting ; and when men came who dared confide in tbe vigour of their temperaments, yet skilful and scrupulous to give a durable form to their impressions and reflexions, a mighty impulse from without had in some sort diverted the stream.
II The revival of learning in France began without Italian intervention and, before it affected at all profoundly the currents of the French literature, it was become a European thing, and the apocalypse of a scholar's paradise had lit up all the West. It is true that, when French artists went to school to the ancients, they saw the paragon of docility in a living people ; and it is at least a colourable opinion that, at the Renaissance, the infant arts of France were strangled by the silken cords of a foreign enchantress.
Yet it is certain that poetry, at any rate, lay bemused ; the best hope of its awakening was in the general spirit of expectancy and rest- lessness ; and it was precisely an effect of that spirit which brought the warlike part of the nation, the most alert and the best able to determine a change of direction in art and in the arts of life, into immediate contact with the sudden and versatile genius of Italy, at a moment when all the adornments of a delicate prosperity were doing homage to the memories of her ancient pride refreshed.
The continuity of the French prose literature was rescued by the prodigious diversity and freedom of Rabelais, who touches Commynes with one elbow and Amyot and Mon- taigne with the other. In verse Clement Marot is a frail link between the starkness of Villon and the reasoned force of the French classics. Yet it may be said that if divine tempests of passion had raged within him and the fire of his imagination had been greater instead of less than his ease and his delight in melting syllables, the French lyric might never have swerved from its straight course, thanks to the steadiness of his example ; for though he fought for King Francis beyond the Alps he is very little Italianate, and his substantial qualities are all homely.
Fortune made Marot the poet of a court tinged with an alien politeness ; where the adulterate valour of a windy Amadis passed for the mirror of Frankish heroism ; but where also, for the first time, there was a zest for prompt and lively talk. He sprang from those rhdtoriqueurs who had amused the solemn leisure of Queen Anne of Brittany ; but, somehow, he escaped their pedantry. He used a succulent and hearty speech, loved and ' emended ' Villon, and while reflecting the idle humours of a domesticated baronage, and even while playing to his disgrace and danger with the edged tools of fashionable dissent, kept the tone of a sober looker- on, and held uppermost all the while that Gaulish joviality and bantering prudence which are the lining, as it were, of the French gravity and rashness.
The old national fabulists live again in him, and for Voiture and La Fontaine, for Regnier and Moliere, for Gresset too and Voltaire, he incar- nated what was best worth preserving, or what could still be understood, in the spirit of the sixteenth century, which to more modern eyes he represents so meagrely.
That splendid episode produced in France a richer, ampler and more delightful poetry than any the Middle Ages had con- ceived; yet it was an episode in some degree unfortunate for the lyrical development. By their precipitate attempt to rival Grreece and Rome with a monument of verse reared in a day upon their models, the heroes of the French Renaissance gave a singular bias to their art ; and the suc- ceeding age, in which the discipline of antiquity was accepted mainly through its affinities with the native intelligence, and its example scrupulously accommodated to the wants of the French genius, avenged too cruelly upon the lyrical idea that debauch of an unsociable enthusiasm.
The enterprise which Pierre de Ronsard, weaned by a merciful infirmity from the life of courts and reading Greek under Daurat at the College de Coqueret, confided to his comrade Baif; the hope the pensive Du Bellay cherished in well- watered Anjou, and proclaimed in his spirited Defense et Illustration de la Langue francoyse, was the conception of an exalted patriotism — nothing less than to endow their country with a fame in letters comparable to the fame of the ancient Republics and of living Italy.
Full of Pindar and Horace and Petrarch, they had confidence not alone in 1 'The French Poete Marot if he be worthy of the name of a poete ' is Spenser's expression : but Spenser by his close relations with the Pleiad- he translated Du Bellay and imitated Baif— was committed to the disparage- ment of the elder writer. I have omitted purposely all reference to the relations still in dispute between the Pleiad and the Lyonnese Platonists— Maurice Sceve, the overrated Louise Labe, and their group. The influence of the Pleiad upon the lyrical poets of the English Renaissance has recently been recognised by English criticism.
Pedants might aspire to emulate the athletic accomplishments of Secundus and Sannazar, and allege the poverty of French to excuse their slothful prejudice. The old Roman writers, instead of using Greek in despair at the inadequacy of Latin for certain purposes of literature, had deliberately forged for themselves a worthier instrument by analogy with the Greek. It was for French poets to enrich French similarly.
Neither Du Bellay nor Ronsard himself recommended an arbitrary multiplication of words : their theory of coinage was cautious enough, and their practice in many cases fortunate. But they erred by taking the indigence of the language too readily for granted, as if, because Marot's talent was content with a few words, it was the want of words that had strait- ened it. And if it was inevitable, and in a measure salutary, at this stage, that the language should be crammed with more ink-horn elements than it could possibly digest, cer- tainly the poets of the Pleiad were tempted to prolixity by the very abundance of their material, and, what is worse, their example spread the mischievous superstition of synonyms, and the heresy of a distinct poetical vocabulary.
Time has approved at almost every point Ronsard's treat- ment of the national prosody. He left it to Antoine de Ba'if to make abortive experiments with quantitative verse : his own precepts, so far from being revolutionary, did little more than define and sanction the better practice of his immediate predecessors. Thus, he forbade certain laxities of rime and deprecated the cacophonous clash of vowels, settled the alternation of masculine and feminine endings, decreed the elision of a mute following a sonorous vowel, and insisted on closing the half line with a strong syllable in the Alexandrine, which it is one of his notable achieve- ments to have restored — especially in lyrical strophes of various measures — to the place of honour it had lost since Rutebeuf.
Les mythes antiques dans la littérature contemporaine
It is true the Alexandrine of the Pleiad had not yet acquired the stability of a real unit ; a certain envy of 16 A CENTURY OF FRENCH POETS the Virgilian amplitude fretting at the limits of a measure numerically shorter than the hexameter, and of which the rhythmical elasticity was still to discover, may account for the frequent overflow of Ronsard's periods, which too often efface the terminal accent to emphasise the bisection of the line. And his choice of the short-breathed decasyllable for his unlucky epic La Franciade, shows clearly enough how little he had divined the resources and the dignity of that magnificent type.
But without him would the Alexandrine have survived at all? Ronsard is the author of the French ode — of the name and of the thing. Allured at first by the Pindaric divisions, strophe and antistrophe and epode, he came to see the futility of those appellations, and retained only the essential conception of one poem with several parts converging to a climax.
He is a great master of movement. The very notions of design, structure, composition, were new to his contemporaries, and for the first time the French lyric gained noble proportions in his hands. A sounder know- ledge of mediaeval poetry has reduced the number of structural inventions which can be ascribed to Ronsard — and still he remains the most fertile inventor in the whole history of French poetry. He gaye the name of Ode only to his longer lyrics, high of purpose, mainly objective in theme and essentially religious in tone and feeling: in reality most of the love-poems, the small delicate master- pieces on which his fame now rests, are also Odes.
It is in these that his ardent and fastidious personality is most clearly expressed. In these especially he invokes the com- panionship of the inanimate, and ransacks earth and heaven for fair similitudes. There he confides most constantly in his own nature, and relents a little from the disastrous habit of mythological allusions, in which no doubt a superstitious reverence for antiquity is involved, but which also presents the exceptional case Andre Chenier's is per- haps the only French parallel of a Christian imagination really peopled with pagan forms by the force of a sympa- thetic assimilation.
Another, its counterpart and complement, is the impotence of envious time. No poet can ever have carried with him a more absorbing ideal of fame than Ronsard. Queens and cardinals and what was more to him his peers and scholars promised him immortality : but for him, as for Milton, the glory of which he felt serenely sure was mystical, independent of all praise. Without false shame, he sang of it constantly, thinking less of his own person than of his illustrious tribe. For it is this after all which, more than his positive achievement, makes Ronsard stand out among the poets of France — that he lifted his art, once and for all, out of the domesticity in which it languished, and proclaimed the poet his own tyrant, with a royal conscience to guard and govern his inspiration.
In his view facility and servility were one : hence his disdain for Marot's unstudied lightness, the milk-and-honey of Saint-Gelais, the laureate of a chivalrous revival- — though he could be just to both upon occasion : hence too, in part, his deliberate rejection of those pleasant toys, ballades, rondeaux, chants royaux, which threatened the freedom and the seriousness of poets with their quaint rigidity. Instead of these he brought into French poetry the real kinds — or what seemed such — into which the Greeks and Romans had distributed all metrical composition, only excepting the Italian sonnet from his proscription of ' fixed forms.
He failed disastrously with his Franciade, partly because he wanted the genius of sustained narration, partly because he had not access to the genuine matter of French epic and was easily seduced by the prestige of a bookish argument. His towering figure dwarfs his comrades — Du Bellay, the tender and spontaneous elegiac with a yein of satire, and a master of the sonnet; Remy Belleau, an exquisite craftsman; the learned Baif, the philosophical Pontus de Thyard ; Etienne Jodelle, who inaugurated French tragedy, but a better poet than dramatist. Their aims were Ronsard's : they had little of his force ; nothing majestic in their defiance of sobriety blinds us to the fundamental weakness of the school.
And when a generation has passed, and Desportes appears, sugared and precious, there is an end of high ambitions, and the fester of Italianism lies open. Those Danaan gifts of the Renaissance, the curiosity of life and the theory of beauty, came charged with dangers for the poise of the French mind. It had not to acquire the notion of humanity, and the new learning diffused through Christendom furnished that notion with a store of concrete applications to a distant age and other races, so like and so unlike us.
But Italy had set up an equivocal ideal of the homo maxvme homo, and the universal man was conceived not as a norm but as a rarity; by her example that craving to multiply the particular existence which is the principle of artistic effort as of most other activities confounded art with accomplishments and aristocracy with vocation.
It was a gain to French poetry that aesthetic emotion should be perceived as the specific criterion of perfect work, that form should be recognised as logically distinct from matter, and the legitimate object of a method deducible from the study of great models : to mistake a logical for a real distinction and adopt the Transalpine ' indifference to the content ' was, for the lesser disciples of Ronsard, to condemn themselves to laborious sterility or histrionic postures.
The poem belongs to the fiercest period of the civil wars, though it was not published before the first years of the seventeenth century, which saw the final ruin of the protestant feudalism. It is long, loosely constructed, tedious in parts; d'Aubigne's Alexandrine is, like Ronsard's, a shifting entity ; and there are quagmires of finical phrase in the masterpiece, which remind his readers that the old fanatic had served his poetical apprenticeship as a purveyor of gallantries. But the rhythm has a prodigious energy, the vivid scenes of conspiracy and slaughter burn our eyes as we read, the comminatory parts are pitched in a key of Hebraical solemnity : Les Tragicques is a monument of lyrical satire which stood alone in the language until the exile of Victor Hugo produced Les Chdtiments, and is hardly to be matched in ours for the sonorous vehemence of its invective, though we have Milton's thunderous verse and scurrilous prose, and the sardonical fury of Absalom and Achitophel.
Mathurin Regnier is a satirist of another sort. His erudition — for he knew the Romans by heart — and his colour bind him to the Pleiad: his racy freshness, zest, agility, the conspicuous power in him of seeming simple, and the continual surprise of an expression startlingly right, carry us back not merely to Marot but to Villon too. Moliere inherited his vein and his diction, and the prose of Saint- Simon more than a hundred years later had the same vivacity and savour in a similar enterprise. This scandalous churchman he was incorrigibly profligate chastised folly without zeal, by the malice of keen senses and the tenacity of a sensuous memory which revived the very looks and tones and gestures of men, but also by the 20 A CENTURY OF FRENCH POETS integrating force of an intelligence which could gather into types the particular bugbears of his sane humanity.
It was perhaps as the nephew of Desportes that Regnier felt obliged to break a lance with the implacable critic of his relative, by way of defending the fame of Ronsard: in any case it was a strange and deplorable confusion of issues which pitted so national a talent against the man who did more than any one else to consummate a national reformation in the matter of poetry. Francois de Malherbe was a Norman gentleman who spent bis life in hard campaigning of one sort or another : in youth he drew the sword for his faith and the integrity of the kingdom, and ended as the champion of the French idiom in its purity, and of the literary conscience.
He wrote a very few thousand lines of verse ; and of that little some is in the worst taste of the times, stilted and decorative and grossly Italianate. How he was converted is not known, but in middle age, or rather later, he formed a new manner, from which conceits are not entirely absent, but which is in the main the perfect model of sententious eloquence. There was no exuberance in his talent : half a dozen topics, chosen for their common interest and developed broadly, in concise and solid formulas, sufficed him; and he took only a few, and the most compact and sober, of Ronsard's strophes for his moulds.
With these, and the grave and confident tone of a robust frankness, a reasonable stoicism, he achieved two or three masterpieces which teach the meaning of orderly and true expression. But his precepts, formal and informal, were even more valuable than his example. They result from an intolerant contempt for waste material, and a conception eminently social of his art. The chaotic affluence of Ronsard's vocabulary did not charm him : it wanted a standard, and it provoked redundance.
He tilted against the Gascon brogue of King Henry's court, and referred a dispute over a common word to the porters of the hay-market, thus signifying his confidence in the usage of the Parisis, that cradle of the language. Malherbe was not insensible to the sonorous virtues of speech, but he under- stood by harmony a continual propriety of expression, and a connection of parts which the reason can appreciate.
To eliminate caprice and chasten personality seemed to him a necessary aim of the poetical discipline. He never thought of poetry as anything else but a form of talk invested with a traditional prestige, by which the particular mind trans- lates for the general the accumulated sagacity of ages. But he laboured to make it as definite a form as possible, and that is the whole gist of his riders upon the prosodical legislation of the Pleiad — that the voice should halt where the sense is consummated, and that rime should be always strenuous, never slovenly. In striving to impose these principles, he took for his models those of the Romans whose accent is most reasonable and whose labour is most cunning ; but it may be said of him that through the Romans he discovered virtues latent in the national literature, though already manifest in French building : economy, balance, a clearness which is not only like plain English practical, but logical also, and exacts an evident, a definite relation of units in a group; but especially the adjustment of proportions to the human scale.
The development of the classical ideal in French art and principally in letters was the work of no single intelligence. Ronsard, it has been said justly, belongs to the prehistoric age of classicism, the age of individual experiment. Malherbe did all one man could do half consciously to conciliate the aesthetic scruple, the breadth and serious enthusiasms of the sixteenth century, its learning and luxurious disdain, with those gregarious instincts, that sobriety and aversion to whatever is esoteric and disorderly, that preference of discourse over ejaculation, which are the perpetual guardians of the French tradition.
The elder Balzac takes up French prose at the point where Montaigne had left it, and gives it equality and cadence. Vaugelas, the grammarian from Savoy, reveals that sort of purity in the form of words and structure of phrase which only a passionate attachment to idiom can attain. But in the formation of a national taste not inferior to the master- pieces of the century, French society itself— a recent thing — directly co-operated. There was indeed a stage when those celebrated gatherings at the Hotel de Rambouillet and other great houses threatened to frustrate, or at least pervert, the enterprise of Malherbe.
When fine ladies leagued with professed wits undertook to humanise the fierce energy of a rude, full-blooded, turbulent nobility disused to all the graces by the civil wars, it is no wonder they overshot the mark of the urbane in their terror of boorishness and insulsity. It was at first an intercourse of violent natures newly ambitious to assert themselves in a spiritual sphere, and ready to lend the exaggerated import- ance of a contest to everything spoken : there was no room for pointless talk ; and periphrastical inventions became at once a protest against crudity, the jargon of a caste, and the opportunity of a vehement egoism transplanted from camps and cabinets to drawing-rooms and bedsides.
Delight in verbalisms, and a rage for recondite allusions and allegorical politeness were fostered by the vogue of a new Italianism which set in with the brilliant pastorals of Marino and Guarini, and complicated by a very superficially Spanish strain of strutting and fantastical extravagance. Malherbe himself did not quite escape these modish taints ; nor later did the magnificent Corneille. They were not any more than our Euphuists, our 'metaphysical school' of poetry symptoms of a decadence, but on the contrary the accidents of an effort, which at last succeeded, to soften the manners of a robustious generation.
But this must be remembered to the credit of the prdcieuses, that their aims, the constitu- tion of a cultivated nucleus, the purgation of the language by the test of usage rather than by the tyranny of peda- gogues, were infinitely respectable; and that it is in great measure owing to their intervention that in the age in which the French mind yielded not absolutely its greatest, but assuredly its most original contribution to European letters, the tone of discourse, civil, unstilted and conciliatory, pre- vailed; and that from then till now the relation of the written to the spoken language has, upon the whole, been constantly closer than in the case of any other modern idiom.
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The lessons of Malherbe anticipated the consolidation of a fastidious public, secured against the charms of an exces- sive personal adventure in poetry by the ascertainment of its true intellectual bench-marks. But, in the first half of the seventeenth century, the immediate influence of society upon lyricism was almost entirely pernicious.
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There were men of talent among the ' bedside poets ' : Vincent Voiture, the spoilt child of a sphere above his birth, displays here and there an amplitude worthy of a higher ambition than to be the most facile, the most ' natural ' model of an artificial style; Sarrazin's witty triolets have an inimitable finish; the trifling fancy of Benserade is often exquisite.
But neither they, nor Theophile de Viau nor Saint-Amant — two writers who had certainly a spark of genius, and by no means depended upon the humours of fashion for their themes, however disastrously both were in different ways contaminated by its jargon — are of a calibre to make any one regret the victory of reason over temperament.