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A History of Literary Criticism in the Renaissance

Looked to the Aristotelian canons


delight, according to Vauquelin, is merely the means of directing us to higher things; poetry is a delightful means of leading us to virtue:--

"C'est pourquoy des beaus vers la joyeuse alegresse Nous conduit aux vertus d'une plaisante addresse."[349]

Vauquelin, like Scaliger, Tasso, Sidney, compares the poet with God, the great Workman, who made everything out of nothing.[350] The poet is a divinely inspired person, who, _sans art, sans scavoir_, creates works of divine beauty. Vauquelin's contemporary, Du Bartas, has in his _Uranie_ expressed this idea in the following manner:--

"Each art is learned by art; but Poesie Is a mere heavenly gift, and none can taste The dews we drop from Pindus plenteously, If sacred fire have not his heart embraced.

"Hence is't that many great Philosophers, Deep-learned clerks, in prose most eloquent, Labor in vain to make a graceful verse, Which many a novice frames most excellent."[351]

While this is the accepted Renaissance doctrine of inspiration, Vauquelin, in common with all other followers of the Pleiade, was fully alive to the necessity of artifice and study in poetry; and he agrees with Horace in regarding both art and nature as equally necessary to the making of a good poet. It is usage that makes art, but art perfects and regulates


"Et ce bel Art nous sert d'escalier pour monter A Dieu."[352]

II. _The Drama_

Dramatic criticism in France begins as a reaction against the drama of the Middle Ages. The mediaeval drama was formless and inorganic, without art or dignity. The classical drama, on the other hand, possessed both form and dignity; and the new school, perceiving this contrast, looked to the Aristotelian canons, as restated by the Italians, to furnish the dignity and art which the tragedy of Greece and Rome possessed, and which their own moralities and farces fundamentally lacked. In the first reference to dramatic literature in French criticism, the mediaeval and classical dramas are compared after this fashion; but as Sibilet (1548), in whose work this passage appears, wrote a year or so before the advent of the Pleiade, the comparison is not so unfavorable to the morality and the farce as it became in later critics. "The French morality," says Sibilet, "represents, in certain distinct traits, Greek and Latin tragedy, especially in that it treats of grave and momentous deeds (_faits graves et principaus_); and if the French had always made the ending of the morality sad and dolorous, the morality would be a tragedy. But in this, as in all things, we have followed our natural taste or inclination, which is to take from foreign things not all we see, but only what we think will be useful to us and of national advantage; for in the morality we treat, as the Greeks and Romans do in their tragedies, the narration of deeds that are illustrious, magnanimous, and virtuous, or true, or at least verisimilar; but we do otherwise in what is useful to the information of our manners and life, without subjecting ourselves to any sorrow or pleasure of the issue."[353] It would seem that Sibilet regards the morality as lacking nothing but the unhappy ending of classical tragedy. At the same time this passage exhibits perhaps the first trace of Aristotelianism in French critical literature; for Sibilet specifies several characteristic features of Greek and Latin tragedy, which he could have found only in Aristotle or in the Italians. In the first place, tragedy deals only with actions that are grave, illustrious, and for the most part magnanimous or virtuous. In the second place, the actions of tragedy are either really true, that is, historical, or if not true, have all the appearance of truth, that is, they are verisimilar. Thirdly, the end of tragedy is always sad and dolorous. Fourthly, tragedy performs a useful function, which is connected in some way with the reformation of manners and life; and, lastly, the effect of tragedy is connected with the sorrow or pleasure brought about by the catastrophe. These distinctions anticipate many of those found later in Scaliger and in the French critics.

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