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A History of French Literature by Edward Dowden

Monluc was indeed a model of military prowess


The

study of history is supported on the one hand by such erudite research as that of Fauchet and Pasquier; on the other hand it is supported by political philosophy and speculation. To philosophy, in the wider sense of the word, the sixteenth century made no large and coherent contribution; the Platonism, Pyrrhonism, Epicureanism, Stoicism of the Renaissance met and clashed together; the rival theologies of the Roman and Reformed Churches contended in a struggle for life. PIERRE DE LA RAMEE (1515-72) expressed the revolt of rationalism against the methods of the schoolmen and the authority of Aristotle; but he ordinarily wrote in Latin, and his _Dialectique_, the first philosophical work in the vulgar tongue, hardly falls within the province of literary history.

The philosophy of politics is represented by one great name, that of JEAN BODIN (1529-96), whose _Republique_ may entitle him to be styled the Montesquieu of the Renaissance. In an age which tended towards the formation of great monarchies he was vigorously monarchical. The patriarchal power of the sovereign might well be thought needful, in the second half of the century, as a barrier against anarchy; but Bodin was no advocate of tyranny; he condemned slavery, and held that religious persecution can only lead to a dissolution of religious belief. A citizen is defined by Bodin as a free man under the supreme government of another; like Montesquieu, he devotes attention to the adaptation

of government to the varieties of race and climate. The attempts at a general history of France in the earlier part of the sixteenth century preserved the arid methods and unilluminated style of the mediaeval chronicles;[3] in the second half of the century they imitated with little skill the models of antiquity. Histories of contemporary events in Europe were written with conscientious impartiality by Lancelot de la Popeliniere, and with personal and party passion, struggling against his well-meant resolves, by Agrippa d'Aubigne. The great _Historia mei Temporis_ of De Thou, faithful and austere in its record of fact, was a highly-important contribution to literature, but it is written in Latin.

[Footnote 3: The narrative of the life of Bayard, by his secretary, writing under the name of "Le Loyal Serviteur" (1527), is admirable for its clearness, grace, and simplicity.]

With a peculiar gift for narrative, the French have been long pre-eminent as writers of memoirs, and already in the sixteenth century such personal recitals are numerous. The wars of Francois I. and of Henri II. gave abundant scope for the display of individual enterprise and energy; the civil wars breathed into the deeds of men an intensity of passion; the actors had much to tell, and a motive for telling it each in his own interest.

The _Commentaires_ of BLAISE DE MONLUC (1502-77) are said to have been named by Henri IV. "the soldier's Bible"; the Bible is one which does not always inculcate mercy or peace. Monluc, a Gascon of honourable birth and a soldier of fortune, had the instinct of battle in his blood; from a soldier he rose through every rank to be the King's lieutenant of Guyenne and a Marshal of France; during fifty years he fought, as a daring captain rather than as a great general, amorous of danger, and at length, terribly disfigured by wounds, he sat down, not to rest, but to wield his pen as if it were a sword of steel. His _Commentaires_ were meant to be a manual for hardy combatants, and what model could he set before the young aspirant so animating as himself? In his earlier wars against the foreign foes of his country, Monluc was indeed a model of military prowess; the civil wars added cruelty to his courage; after a fashion he was religious, and a short shrift and a cord were good enough for heretics and adversaries of his King. An unlettered soldier, Monluc, by virtue of his energy of character and directness of speech, became a most impressive and spirited narrator. His Memoirs close with a sigh for stern and inviolable solitude. Among the Pyrenean rocks he had formerly observed a lonely monastery, in view at once of Spain and France; there it was his wish to end his days.


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