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A History of French Literature by Edward Dowden

The most distinguished was MELIN DE SAINT GELAIS


from the allegorising style, he learned to express his personal sentiments, and something of the gay, bourgeois spirit of France, with aristocratic distinction. His poetry of the court and of occasion has lost its savour; but when he writes familiarly (as in the _Epitre au Roi pour avoir ete derobe_), or tells a short tale (like the fable of the rat and the lion), he is charmingly bright and natural. None of his poems--elegies, epistles, satires, songs, epigrams, rondeaux, pastorals, ballades--overwhelm us by their length; he was not a writer of vast imaginative ambitions. His best epigrams are masterpieces in their kind, with happy turns of thought and expression in which art seems to have the ease of nature. The satirical epistle supposed to be sent, not by Marot, but by his valet, to Marot's adversary, Sagon, is spirited in its insolence. _L'Enfer_ is a satiric outbreak of indignation suggested by his imprisonment in the Chatelet on the charge of heresy. His versified translation of forty-nine Psalms added to his glory, and brought him the honour of personal danger from the hostility of the Sorbonne; but to attempt such a translation is to aim at what is impossible. His gift to French poetry is especially a gift of finer art--firm and delicate expression, felicity in rendering a thought or a feeling, certainty and grace in poetic evolution, skill in handling the decasyllabic line. A great poet Marot was not, and could not be; but, coming at a fortunate moment, his work served literature in important ways; it was a return from laboured rhetoric to nature. In the classical age his merit was recognised by La Bruyere, and the author of the _Fables_ and the _Contes_--in some respects a kindred spirit--acknowledged a debt to Marot.

From Marot as a poet much was learned by Marguerite of Navarre. Of his contemporaries, who were also disciples, the most distinguished was MELIN DE SAINT-GELAIS, and on the master's death Melin passed for an eminent poet. We can regard him now more justly, as one who in slender work sought for elegance, and fell into a mannered prettiness. While preserving something of the French spirit, he suffered from the frigid ingenuities which an imitation of Italian models suggested to him; but it cannot be forgotten that Saint-Gelais brought the sonnet from Italy into French poetry. The school of Marot, ambitious in little things, affected much the _blason_, which celebrates an eyebrow, a lip, a bosom, a jewel, a flower, a precious stone; lyrical inspiration was slender, but clearness and grace were worth attaining, and the conception of poetry as a fine art served to lead the way towards Ronsard and the Pleiade.

The most powerful personality in literature of the first half of the sixteenth century was not a poet, though he wrote verses, but a great creator in imaginative prose, great partly by virtue of his native genius, partly because the sap of the new age of enthusiasm for science and learning was thronging in his veins--FRANCOIS RABELAIS. Born about 1490 or 1495, at Chinon, in Touraine, of parents in a modest station, he received his education in the village of Seuille and at the convent of La Baumette. He revolted against the routine of the schools, and longed for some nutriment more succulent and savoury. For fifteen years he lived as a Franciscan monk in the cell and cloisters of the monastery at Fontenay-le-Comte. In books, but not those of a monastic library, he found salvation; mathematics, astronomy, law, Latin, Greek consoled him during his period of uncongenial seclusion. His criminal companions--books which might be suspected of heresy--were sequestrated. The young Bishop of Maillezais--his friend Geoffroy


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