occasions do they rise above the commonplace. If Marot is depressed, it is not the pathos of self-tormented, toiling humanity that makes him sad, but the little accidents of his own existence; and when he rejoices he is merely gay; sunshine and love and flowers awake in him no fervour of exultation; he likes the good things of this world, and says so without undue emotion. There are great voices in the seas and among the hills; the earth is full of strife and strange passion, and Europe echoes with the vast conflicts of kings; the poet, however, is content to look at the shop-windows and to write about nothing in particular in excellent French.

He died in the midst of the great awakening, -- that amazing pageant in which he played so small a part. At times he seems dimly to have realized the splendour of the new epoch: --

Le monde rit au monde, aussi est-il en sa jeunesse, -- but he was content to abide till the end amid the old shadows, for he loved neatness rather than beauty of language, and the finer enthusiasms found no place in a temperament so discreetly and pleasantly mediocre.


In the last days of the year 1494 the army of Charles VIII surged down the Alpine slopes into Italy, and thenceforward, until that sinister battle of Pavia in which Francis I lost all fors l'honneur, Italy was the centre and focus of European learning and chivalry. It was the amazing vision of a mode of life more passionate and more comely than their own, a mode for which gallant soldiers and scholars enthusiastic concerning all new things were just then apt, that first enthralled the strangers from beyond the hills.

They found a country which is still to us, as to them, an earthly paradise; where, amid superb cathedrals and palaces and beautiful walled cities, dwelt a race that numbered life itself amongst the grand arts. The love of beauty for its own sake, the careful delight in the details of existence as well as in its passion and its poetry, so that an artist in metals would spend months in engraving a sword blade, and a squabble about Greek enclitics would be conducted with all the fury of a religious war; the intellectual ruffians who entertained great poets, and translated Plato, and burnt each other's towns; the wily and terrible masters of intrigue who were Christ's vicars on earth; princes of the Church; condottieri; women like those Titian painted, and feasts as we see them in the pictures of Veronese; colour everywhere, and music, and amazing luxury; -- one can imagine how wonderful this crowded and vivid existence would seem to a Frenchman of the time; how eagerly the French temperament, always curious concerning every kind of material excellence, would absorb the details and investigate the causes of such exuberant and intense vitality.

To the student of literature the most significant feature of the Renaissance is the revival of learning. Scholarship had continued throughout the Middle Ages, but it was utilitarian; learning was a weapon for the hand of the jurisconsult or the theologian. Humanism appears with the discovery of the art of printing; and when the great Venetian editions of the classics were issued scholarship was not merely a useful accomplishment but had become a high passion. The scholar was no longer an advocate who rolled Ciceronian thunder across the court, or a priest primed with Augustine: he was a happy hedonist who, like Ronsard, would lock his door and read the Iliad in three days. When the Sorbonne petitioned Francis I to suppress the printers it understood what a fatal blow was being aimed by the new learning at the official residence of pedantic darkness; it knew that the message contained in these old, ever- new books which were multiplying so rapidly was the message of liberty. But it committed the error of confusing liberty with impiety, and in regarding the enthusiasm for Greek and Latin as essentially pagan. M. Faguet has pointed out1 that the humanist of the Renaissance had two personalities; one which went to church and loved the king, and one which adored Jupiter and loved Amaryllis. Pico della Mirandola is the type of this dual character, and the story that he was buried in the Dominican habit is strangely suggestive. In the poetry of Ronsard and the Pléiade we find all the characteristics of the complete humanist; the passion for learning, the sense of and craving for style, the realization of the beauty of natural sights and sounds, and the ever-haunting consciousness of the brevity of life and earthly love. In Ronsard, however, the love of learning for its own sake soon changed into a desire to use all

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.