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A History of Literary Criticism in the Renaissance

The Quintil Horatian 1550 represents


I. _Classical Elements_

It was to Du Bellay (1549) that France owes the introduction of classical ideas into French literature. He was the first to regard the imitation of the classics as a literary principle, and to advise the poet, after the manner of Vida, to purloin all the treasures of Greek and Latin literature for the benefit of French poetry. Moreover, he first formulated the aristocratic conception of the poet held by the Pleiade. The poet was advised to flee from the ignorant people, to bury himself in the solitude of his own chamber, to dream and to ponder, and to content himself with few readers. "Beyond everything," says Du Bellay, "the poet should have one or more learned friends to whom he can show all his verses; he should converse not only with learned men, but with all sorts of workmen, mechanics, artists, and others, in order to learn the technical terms of their arts, for use in beautiful descriptions."[382] This was a favorite theory of the Pleiade, which like some of our own contemporary writers regarded the technical arts as important subjects of inspiration. But the essential point at the bottom of all these discussions is a high contempt for the opinion of the vulgar in matters of art.

The _Quintil Horatian_ (1550) represents, as has already been seen, a natural reaction against the foreign and classical innovations of the Pleiade. Du Bellay's advice, "Prens garde que ce poeme soit eslogne

du vulgaire,"--advice insisted upon by many of the rhetoricians of the Italian Renaissance,--receives considerable censure; on the contrary, says the author of the _Quintil_, the poet must be understood and appreciated by all, unlearned as well as learned, just as Marot was. The _Quintil_ was, in fact, the first work to insist on definiteness and clearness in poetry, as these were afterward insisted on by Malherbe and Boileau. Like Malherbe, and his disciple Deimier, the author of the _Academie de l'Art Poetique_ (1610), in which the influence of the _Quintil_ is fully acknowledged, the author of the _Quintil_ objects to all forms of poetic license, to all useless metaphors that obscure the sense, to all Latinisms and foreign terms and locutions.[383] Du Bellay had dwelt on the importance of a knowledge of the classical and Italian tongues, and had strongly advised the French poet to naturalize as many Latin, Greek, and even Spanish and Italian terms as he could. The _Quintil_ is particularly bitter against all such foreign innovations. The poet need not know foreign tongues at all; without this knowledge he can be as good a poet as any of the _graecaniseurs, latiniseurs, et italianiseurs en francoys_. This protest availed little, and Du Bellay's advice in regard to the use of Italian terms was so well followed that several years later, in 1578, Henri Estienne vigorously protested against the practice in his _Dialogues du Nouveau Langage francois italianise_. As Ronsard and Du Bellay represent the foreign elements that went to make up classicism in France, so the author of the _Quintil Horatian_ may be said to represent in his humble way certain enduring elements of the _esprit gaulois_. He represents the national traditions, and he prepares the way for the two great bourgeois poets of France,--Boileau, with his "Tout doit tendre au bon sens," and Moliere, with his bluff cry, "Je suis pour le bon sens."

According to Pelletier (1555), French poetry is too much like colloquial speech; in order to equal classical literature, the poets of France must be more daring and less popular.[384] Pelletier's point of view is here that of the Pleiade, which aimed at a distinct poetic language, diverse from ordinary prose speech. But he is thoroughly French, and in complete accord with the author of the _Quintil Horatian_, in his insistence on perfect clearness in poetry. "Clearness," he says, "is the first and worthiest virtue of a poem."[385] Obscurity is the chief fault of poetry, "for there is no difference between not speaking at all and not being understood."[386] For these reasons he is against all unnecessary and bombastic ornament; the true use of metaphors and comparisons of all sorts is "to explain and represent things as they really are." Similarly, Ronsard, while recognizing the value of comparisons, rightfully used, as the very nerves and tendons of poetry, declares that if instead of perfecting and clarifying, they obscure or confuse the idea, they are ridiculous.[387] Obscurity was the chief danger, and indeed the chief fault, of the Pleiade; and it is no small merit that both Ronsard and Pelletier perceived this fact.


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