its own decay, and this is pre-eminently true of the work of the Pléiade, -- a work which seems, regarded superficially, somewhat spiritless and short-lived. It was Ronsard who first realized the height to which the Alexandrine could be raised; there is nothing in the early literature to compare with the noble dignity of his Conseils à Charles IX; but only the cold cleverness of Malherbe is necessary to change this dignity into pompous rhetoric. It was Ronsard who first showed any discrimination in the use of dainty diminutives and strange loan-words, and we have only to glance at Du Bartas -- who would be suspected of parody if he were not the most solemn Calvinist that ever compiled inflated fustian -- to see what amazing pinnacles of lunacy an uninspired disciple may reach. Ronsard was a great poet, having authority; he was also a scholar, with the scholar's weakness for imposing rules; and, unfortunately, the first to take advantage of such rules, and to strengthen them and contract their limits, are usually those who are designed by nature to be pedants and not poets.

To Ronsard and the Pléiade, besides a high dignity of style and a lyric sweetness never before approached, we owe the modern genres of poetry, the free lyric, the ode, the various forms written in Alexandrines, the sonnet, and the great strophe Malherbienne, which was in reality the strophe Ronsardienne, for Malherbe has only added a syllable to each of its lines. To Malherbe we owe the perpetualizing of these forms reduced to their lowest terms of mechanical accuracy by a frigid intelligence. Ronsard and Malherbe will be remembered together as the supreme examples of the ancient truth that the letter kills and the spirit makes alive. The Pléiade is immortal; Malherbe will be recalled only as the uninspired prophet of a dawn that had already risen, as the thin voice of an epoch which stole the lyrical forms of its despised forerunners and found nothing lyrical to say.


With the beginning of the so-called classical epoch comes the decline and fall of lyric poetry. Enfin Malherbe vint; but Malherbe can no more be held directly responsible for the literary iniquities of the seventeenth century than he can be lauded as the originator of its great drama. He is the spokesman of the new age, and his verse is the official pattern, rather than the cause, of all the ensuing machine- made rhetoric.

The Renaissance was a return to individualism, to personal freedom of thought and action. Fay ce que vouldras was the inscription on the portal of Rabelais' Thélème; be intolerant and suspicious of all formal control which is based on outworn and arbitrary rules; --

Be your own star, for strength is from within,
And one against the world will always win! --
this is the most startling of the qualities that distinguish the temperament of the Renaissance from that of the Middle Ages. In Castiglione's Cortegiano and Montaigne's Essais we may see how this new spirit affected the man of affairs and the man of thought; and Ronsard's passion for personal fame and the poignant heart-sickness of Du Bellay's Regrets are widely different examples of its influence on the poets. The Reformation was a reaction against this spirit of self-culture and self-expression, and a perfectly logical reaction. The religion of the Middle Ages had led men, like sheep, in flocks; and the reformers realized that the new individualism had rapidly become the sworn enemy of that particular kind of spiritual direction, and was developing into an extreme form of pagan nonchalance. But whatever the theological defects of individualism may be, it is a necessary adjunct to any period of great lyric poetry, and when the literature of any country loses this quality and falls into the careful hands of cliques and coteries we may conclude with tolerable certainty that, for the moment at least, its singing season is over. Poetry in a cage of rules is like an imprisoned bird: she will pipe a formal tune for you, but the wild sweetness of her woodland voice was lost with her liberty.

It has been said that the continued eagerness shown by the French temperament to impose the restraint of authority on its art is produced by the distrust of its own exuberance. The `reform' which is usually attributed to Malherbe was probably carried into effect for another and less subtle reason; it was due to a social movement in some degree analogous to the moral reaction which we spoke of a moment ago. Poetry became domesticated and went to live at the Hôtel de Rambouillet. Or rather, it went there to die.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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