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Theae is no poet I am acquainted with, ancient or modern, who has impressed his own character so minutely and strongly on his writings as Ronsard. His loyalty to his sovereigns, accompanied by the most F. frankness; the openness of his eart, equally disposed to form friendships, and constant in preserving them; his generosity and placability; his great learning, that unhappily served, for the most part, only to make him ridiculous; the high value he set on his noble birth,” which, as he said, enabled him to imitate Pindar, when Horace had failed in the attempt on account of his wanting that advantage; his gallantry, made up of pedantry and passion ; his hearty love of the country in its natural and unembellished state; his zeal for the poetic art, to which every thing else was subordinate;— all these, like so many quarterings in a coat of armour, are on his pages blazoned at full and in their proper colours. From the account which his affectionate friend Claude Binet has given of his life, corrected by such notices as he has left of himself, I have extracted some of the principal incidents, and shall place them here as the best introduction to the remarks which I have to make on his writings.
Pierre de Ronsard descended from a noble family, was born on Saturday the eleventh of September, 1524, the year in which Francis I. was made risoner in the battle of Pavia.t he first of his ancestors who came into France, was the younger son of an opulent and powerful nobleman settled on the banks of the Danube. This man, incited by a spirit of enterprize, left his home with a band of companions, who, like himself, were younger brothers; and entering into the service of Philip of Valois, then at war with the English, satisfied the French king so well, that he was rewarded with an ample estate on the banks of the Loire, where he and his posterity continued to reside. The father of our poet was thought a fit person to accompany Henry, the son of Francis I. when he was sent as a hostage for his father into Spain; and to be entrusted with the management of the young prince's household. Pierre, who was the sixth son, having been brought up till he was nine years old at the Chateau de la Poissoniere, his native place, in the lower Wendomois, was then sent to the Royal College of Navarre at Paris; but not bearing the restraint laid on him by his preceptors, he was brought by his father to Avignon, and placed in the service of Francis, eldest son of the French king. That prince dying soon after, Ronsard was transferred to the train of his brother Charles, Duke of Orleans, by whom he was again passed over to the retinue of James V. king of Scotland, who had come to marry Madelaine, daughter of the French king. By James he was taken to Scotland, where he passed two years and a half. He then spent six months in England, where he learnt our language; and afterwards returned to his former master the Duke of Orleans, who now retained him as his page. Bein master of the accomplishments usua at his age, he was despatched on some affairs to Flanders and Zealand, whence he was charged to proceed on a mission to Scotland. On his second visit to that country, he narrowly escaped shipwreck. He returned at the early age of sixteen. Henry, who was afterwards king, then placed him in the suite of Lazare de Baif, who at that time was ambassador to the Diet at Spires. On this journey he acquired the German language. His next service to his country led him to Piedmont, with the Capitaine de Langey. But these exertions were disproportioned to his time of life, and occasioned a fever, with a defluxion on the brain, that in the end deprived him of his hearing. This misfortune, however, served only to determine him to the ursuit of those studies to which he ad not hitherto had time to apply himself. His love of letters is said to have been awakened by one of his brother pages, who had always a Virgil in his hand, and who used to explaim to him passages in that poet. In the Preface to the Franciade, he says, that his master at school had taught him Virgil ; and that having learnt him by heart from his infancy, he could not forget him. To the Latin poet he now added Jean le Maire de Belges, the Romant de la Rose, and the works of Clement Marot. By Dorat, who was the preceptor of young Baif, Ronsard was encouraged to the study of Greek, in which he made such a proficiency, as to translate the Prometheus of AEschylus; at the same time asking his master, why he had so long kept such treasures concealed from him P. His next attempt was a
version of the Plutus of Aristophanes, part of which still remains. "It was represented on the French theatre; and from such a beginning, we can, in some measure, account for the excellence at which the French have since arrived in this species of composition. He was next desirous of trying his strength with Pindar, whose manner he was so studious of imitating, that he drew on himself the sarcasms of his contemporaries. So far did he carry his admiration of every thing that had the most remote connection with his favourite o of Greece, that he is said to ave been influenced in the choice of a mistress to celebrate in his verses, by the accidental circumstance of her bearing the name of Cassandra, the daughter of Priam. But in the Epistle to Remy Belleau, he leaves it doubtful whether this was the real or fictitious name of a young lady, of whom he became enamoured when he was following the court at Blois. His idolatry for the antients was not such as to make him neglect the means which his own country asforded him for enriching its vermacular tongue. He is said, like Burke, to have visited the shops of artisans, and to have made himself acquainted with all sorts of handicrafts, in order that he might learn the different terms which were employed in them, and derive illustrations whereby to diversify and ornament his diction. In his Abregé de l'Art Poetique, and in the Preface to the Franciade, he himself recommends this practice; and at the same time advises the poet to appropriate the most significant words that he can collect from the different dialects of France. About 1549, on his return from Poitiers to Paris, he chanced to fall in with Joachim du Bellay; and joining together on the journey, the fellow-travellers were so much pleased with one another, that they determined to reside under the same roof. In this party, Jan Antoine de Baif made a third. It did not, however, continue uninterrupted by jealousy. Ronsard accused Bellay of wishing to forestal the favour of the public, by a collection of poems which he had closely copied from some of his own. He even instituted a suit, as Binet relates, for the recovery of some papers, of which du Bellay had surreptitiously obtained possession for this purpose, and gained his cause. But so little resentment was harboured on either side, that they renewed the intimacy; and Ronsard encouraged his rival to the cultivation of the art to which he was himself so much attached, by means at once more honourable, and more likely to ensure success— namely, by trusting to the resources of his own mind. Another instance of his noble temper showed itself in his forgiveness of Mellin de Saint Gelais, who, after having disparaged the works of Ronsard, as he É. reason to believe, in the presence of the King, afterwards sought his friendship; whereupon the injured poet not only altered a passage in one of his poems, in which he had expressed his sense of this malignity, but honoured him with those praises to which he thought the merit of Saint Gelais entitled him.” In answer to the charges brought against him of obscurity and unconnectedness, he haughtily declared his indifference to the taste of the vulgar; and compared his enemies at the court to dogs that bite at the stone which they cannot digest. Mais que ferai-je à ce vulgaire, A qui jamais je n'ay sceu plaire, Nyne plais, ny plaire ne veux P L. v. O. ii. At the end of ten years he quitted his Cassandra, thinking, perhaps, that having stood as long a siege as Troy without yielding, there was no further chance of winning her affections. A young damsel of Anjou, named Mary, was the next object of his poetical courtship. To her he altered his style, and condescended to speak his passion in plainer terms. Margaret, Duchess of Savoy, is said to have changed the opinion of the French King with respect to the merit of Ronsard, and to have done
it so effectually, that the monarch afterwards thought himself honoured by possessing so great a genius in his dominions; and gave proofs that he did so, by the honours and pensions which he conferred on him, though not in such measure as to satisfy the expectations of Ronsard. The sage Michel de l'Hôpital, Chancellor to this lady, as he afterwards was of France, also undertook his defence; and wrote a Latin poem in his praise. In return, Ronsard addressed a long and laboured ode (the tenth of the first book) to l'Hôpital. The Cardinal de Chatillon, Charles Cardinal of Lorraine, and other great men of the day, now enlisted themselves in the number of his patrons and friends; and the Presidents of the Jeux Floraux, not thinking the customary prize of the eglantine sufficient for his deserts, sent him a figure of Minerva in silver, which he presented to the King. At the death of Henry II. and during the religious dissentions which followed at the succession of Francis II. Ronsard, in his defence of the established form of worship, exposed himself to some rough treatment from the Reformers. Amongst other things, they accused him of heathenism, for having assisted at the sacrifice of a he-goat; an affair that turned out to be a frolic, in which he and some of his literary companions engaged, in consequence of a tragedy by Jodelle being represented before the King. However he might think himself bound to support the ancient religion of his country, that he was no bigot I am disposed to believe from the following lines in an Ode to one of his friends:— Ne romps ton tranquille repos Pour Papaux ny pour Huguenots, Niamy d'eux, ni adversaire, Croyant que Dieu Pere tres-dous (Qui n'est partial comme nous) Scait ce quinous est necessaire. ... L. v. O. xxviii.
Break not thy peace, nor care a jot
* In the Odes, L. iv. O. xxi. it appears that Mellin had disavowed the calumnies which it was reported that he had uttered in the presence of the King against Ronsard;
and that their friendship was restored.
When the short reign of Francis II. was terminated by the death of that King, his brother, Charles IX. did not suffer Ronsard to quit him, by which the poet was much gratified. Amongst other subjects, to which Charles directed his pen, were such vices in his people as he should think deserving of his satire, at the same time, desiring him not to spare what he found worthy of reprehension in himself. Ronsard was hardy enough to take him at his word, and so fortunate as to escape the fate which befel the monitor of the Archbishop of Grenada. The King in his turn kept the bard in good order, declaring that poets were to be used like good steeds, to have sufficient food allowed them, but not to be pampered. The courtiers availed themselves of the fertility of his Muse; and borrowed his pen for the celebration of their mistresses. The Queen Mother, Catherine de' Medici, directed him to make choice of one of the ladies of the chamber, whose name was Helene de Surgeres, descended of a Spanish family, to receive the homage of his own person, and bade him address her in the pure and refined style of Petrarch, as most suitable to his age and gravity. Between the dicipline thus imposed on him by his royal master and mistress, it is likely that the poet must have felt himself under some constraint. He continued, however, to warble many a sonnet in his cage; and as a reward of his submission and docility, was presented with the Abbey of Bellozane, and some priories. At the succession of Henry III. to whom he used the same freedom as he had done to his predecessor, he complained that he was no longer caressed, as he had been by Charles. He found some consolation in the attentions of the two rival queens, Elizabeth of England, and Mary Stewart, the former of whom compared him to a valuable diamond of which she made him a present, and the latter, from her prison, sent him in 1583, two years before his death, a casket containing two thousand crowns, together with a vase representing Parnassus and Pegasus, and inscribed— A Ronsard l'Apollon dela SourcedesMuses. “To Ronsard, Apollo of the Muses' Fountain.” During the latter part of his life
he was much afflicted with the gout. The Sieur Galland, chief of the Academy of Boncourt, was the friend in whose society he now found most comfort, calling him his “ second soul.” . To him, on the twenty-second of October before his death, he wrote:—“ Qu'il etoit devenu fort foible et maigre depuis quinze jours, qu'il craignit que les feuilles d’Automne ne le vissent tomber avec elles; que la volonté de Dieu soit faite, et qu'aussi bien parmi tant de douleurs nerveux, ne se pouvant soutenir, il n'etoit plus qu'un inutile fardeau sur la terre, le priant au reste de l'aller trouver, estimant sa
resence lui etre un remede.” “That or the last fortnight he had become very emaciated and feeble; that he feared the leaves of Autumn would see him fall with them ; that his prayer, however, was God's will be done; and that moreover, not being able to support himself amid such nervous pangs as he endured, he was no longer any thing but a useless burden to the earth; for the rest, that he entreated him to come and see him, for that he thought his presence would be a cordial to him.” Hoping for some ease from change of place and objects, he removed from one of his benefices to another. His piety was fervent and unremitting; and his repentance for the excesses of his earlier life, into which the court had led him, earnest and sincere. He manifested no uneasiness, except in a frequent desire, which accompanied him to the last,
of dictating the verses that presented
This is such a string of puns as, if they were once slipped out of their Greek setting, it would be impossible to thread again.
His biographer observes, that Europe lost several of her most illustrious men about the same time: one of them was Antoine de Muret, whom Ronsard had reckoned among his friends, and who united with Remy Belleau in writing annotations on his poems.
The French poets, whom he es
teemed as having begun to write
well in that language, were Maurice Sceve, Hugues Salel, Antoine Heroet, Mellin de Saint Gelais, Jacques Pelletier, and Guillaume Autels. To them succeeded a set of writers who were in some measure, though older some of them than himself, influenced by his example, and who have been already mentioned as constituting, together with him, the French Pleiad. Others, whom he highly esteemed, were Estienne Pasquier; Olivier de Magny; Jean de la Peruse; Amadis Jamyn, whom he had educated as his page; Robert Garnier, a tragic writer; Florent Chrestien; Scevole de Sainte Marthe; Jean Passerat; Philippe Desportes; the Cardinal du Perron; and Bertaud. Among those learned foreigners who paid their tribute to the excellence of Ronsard, occur the distinguished names of Julius Caesar Scaliger, Pietro Vettori, and Sperone Speroni. His conversation is said to have been easy and pleasant. He was himself free, open, and simple; and associated willingly with none who who were otherwise, being a declared enemy to every thing like affectation. In short, Claude Binet considered him in manners and apearance as the model of a true rench gentleman. His usual residence was at Saint Cosme, a delightful spot, (l'oeillet de la Touraine) the pink of Touraine, itself the garden of France; or at Bourgueil, where he went for the sake of sporting, in which he took much pleasure; and here he kept the dogs given him by Charles IX., a falcon, and a goshawk S. tiercelet d'autour). Another of his amusements was gardening, in which he had considerable skill. When at Paris, his favourite retirements were at Meudon, for the sake of the
woods and the Seine; or at Gentilly, Hercueil, Saint Cloud, and Vanves, for the sake of the rivulet of Biévre and its fountains. He took delight also in the sister arts of painting, sculpture, and music, and was skilled enough in the latter to sing his own verses. The poems that stand first in his collection are the Amours de Cassandre, consisting, besides a few other pieces, of two hundred and twenty-two sonnets, one only of which is in the Alexandrine, the rest are in the vers communs, or decasyllabick measure. In the Preface to the Franciade he says, that he had changed his mind as to the Alexandrine measure, which he no longer considered as the proper heroic. His reason is, that it savours too much of an extremely easy prose, and is too emervated and flagging; except it be for translations, in which it is useful, on account of its length, for expressing the sense of an author. He thought differently when he wrote his Art Poetique, as may be seen by referring to the chapter on versification. Ronsard must sometimes have puzzled Cassandra, unless she was tolerably learned, and well read in Aristotle. Thus in Sonnet 68, he asks her— O lumiere ! enrichie D'un feu divin, qui m'ard si vivement, Pour me donner l'etre et le mouvement, Etes vous pas ma seul entelechief “O light! in whom I see The fire divine, that burns me to bestow Whate'er of being or of life I know, Say art not thou my sole entelechy P” In the 104th, he reminds her of the violation of her person by Ajax, the son of Oileus. His attempt to mould the French language to the purposes of poetry did not succeed. W. in imitation of Petrarch, he says— Le seul Avril, de son jeune printemps Endore, emperle, enfrange notre temps. Son. 121. Vedi quant'arte'ndora emperla ennostra L’abito eletto.
the French being the language of Europe, will not easily endure such innovations as these, which tend to make it less generally intelligible.
The fifty-second sonnet is no unfavourable specimen of his Platonic manner: