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A History of Literary Criticism in the Renaissance

E pero in se comprende Ogni stilo


It

was Ronsard's personal ambition to be the French Virgil, as in lyric poetry he had been proclaimed the French Pindar. For twenty years he labored on the _Franciade_, but never finished it. In the two prefaces which he wrote for it, the first in 1572, and the second (published posthumously) about 1584, he attempts to give expression to his ideal of the heroic poet. In neither of them does he succeed in formulating any very definite or consistent body of epic theory. They are chiefly interesting in that they indicate the general tendencies of the Pleiade, and show Ronsard's own rhetorical principles, and his feeling for nature and natural beauty. The passage has already been cited in which he speaks of the heroic poem as entirely of a martial character, and limits its action to the space of one year. It has also been seen that for him, as for the Italians, verisimilitude, and not fact, is the test of poetry. At the same time, the epic poet is to avoid anachronisms and misstatements of fact. Such faults do not disturb the reader so much when the story is remote in point of time; and the poet should therefore always use an argument, the events of which are at least three or four hundred years old. The basis of the work should rest upon some old story of past times and of long-established renown, which has gained the credit of men.[378] This notion of the antiquity of the epic fable had been accepted long ago by the Italians. It is stated, for example, in Tasso's _Discorsi dell' Arte
Poetica_, written about 1564, though not published until 1587, fifteen years after Tasso had visited Ronsard in Paris.

Vauquelin de la Fresnaye has the Pleiade veneration for heroic poetry; but he cannot be said to exhibit any more definite conception of its form and function. For him the epic is a vast and magnificent narration, a world in itself, wherein men, things, and thoughts are wondrously mirrored:--

"C'est un tableau du monde, un miroir qui raporte Les gestes des mortels en differente sorte.... Car toute poesie il contient en soymeme, Soit tragique ou comique, ou soit autre poeme."[379]

With this we may compare what Muzio had said in 1551:--

"Il poema sovrano e una pittura De l' universo, e pero in se comprende Ogni stilo, ogni forma, ogni ritratto."

But despite this very vague conception of the epic in the French Renaissance, there was, as has been said, a high veneration for it as a form, and for its masters, Homer and especially Virgil. This accounts for the large number of attempts at epic composition in France during the next century. But beyond the earlier and indefinite notion of heroic poetry the French did not get for a long time to come. Even for Boileau the epic poem was merely the _vaste recit d'une longue action_.[380]

FOOT-NOTES:

[335] _Defense_, ii. 3.

[336] _Ibid._ ii. 11.

[337] Ronsard, vii. 310, 325.

[338] Ronsard, vii. 37 _sq._

[339] Ronsard, vi. 311 _sq._

[340] _Essais_, i. 36, Florio's translation.

[341] Ronsard, vii. 322. _Cf._ Aristotle, _Poet._ ix. 1-4; xxv. 6, 7.

[342] _Poet._ iii. 24.


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