The Heptameron, by Marguerite de Navarre

The Heptameron.

First Day.

On the First Day are recounted the ill-turns which have been done by Women to Men and by Men to Women.

Prologue: The Story-tellers in the Meadow near The Gave.


On the first day of September, when the baths in the Pyrenees Mountains begin to be possessed of their virtue, there were at those of Cauterets1 many persons as well of France as of Spain, some to drink the water, others to bathe in it, and again others to make trial of the mud; all these being remedies so marvellous that persons despaired of by the doctors return thence wholly cured. My purpose is not to speak to you of the situation or virtue of the said baths, but only to set forth as much as relates to the matter of which I desire to write.

All the sick persons continued at the baths for more than three weeks, until by the amendment in their condition they perceived that they might return home again. But while they were preparing to do so, there fell such extraordinary rains that it seemed as though God had forgotten the promise He made to Noah never to destroy the world with water again; for every cottage and every lodging in Cauterets was so flooded with water that it was no longer possible to continue there. Those who had come from the side of Spain returned thither across the mountains as best they could, and such of them as knew whither the roads led fared best in making their escape.

The French lords and ladies thought to return to Tarbes as easily as they had come, but they found the streamlets so deep as to be scarcely fordable. When they came to pass over the Bearnese Gave,2 which at the time of their former passage had been less than two feet in depth, they found it so broad and swift that they turned aside to seek for the bridges. But these being only of wood, had been swept away by the turbulence of the water.

Then certain of the company thought to stem the force of the current by crossing in a body, but they were quickly carried away, and the others who had been about to follow lost all inclination to do so. Accordingly they separated, as much because they were not all of one mind as to find some other way. Some crossed over the mountains, and passing through Aragon came to the county of Rousillon, and thence to Narbonne; whilst others made straight for Barcelona, going thence by sea, some to Marseilles and others to Aigues-Mortes.

But a widow lady of long experience, named Oisille, resolved to lay aside all fear of bad roads and to betake herself to Our Lady of Serrance.3

She was not, indeed, so superstitious as to think that the glorious Virgin would leave her seat at her Son’s right hand to come and dwell in a desolate country, but she was desirous to see the hallowed spot of which she had so often heard, and further she was sure that if there were a means of escaping from a danger, the monks would certainly find it out. At last she arrived, after passing through places so strange, and so difficult in the going up and coming down, that, in spite of her years and weight, she had perforce gone most of the way on foot But the most piteous thing was, that the greater part of her servants and horses were left dead on the way, and she had but one man and one woman with her on arriving at Serrance, where she was charitably received by the monks.

There were also among the French two gentlemen who had gone to the baths rather that they might be in the company of the ladies whose lovers they were, than because of any failure in their health. These gentlemen, seeing that the company was departing and that the husbands of their ladies were taking them away, resolved to follow them at a distance without making their design known to any one. But one evening, while the two married gentlemen and their wives were in the house of one who was more of a robber than a peasant, the two lovers, who were lodged in a farmhouse hard by, heard about midnight a great uproar. They got up, together with their serving-men, and inquired what this tumult meant. The poor man, in great fear, told them that it was caused by certain evil-doers who were come to share the spoil which was in the house of their fellow-bandit. Thereupon the gentlemen immediately took their arms, and with their serving-men set forth to succour the ladies, esteeming it a happier thing to die for them than to outlive them.

When they reached the house, they found the first door broken through, and the two gentlemen with their servants defending themselves valiantly. But inasmuch as they were outnumbered by the robbers, and were also sorely wounded, they were beginning to fall back, having already lost many of their servants. The two gentlemen, looking in at the windows, perceived the ladies shrieking and sobbing so bitterly that their hearts swelled with pity and love at the sight; and, like two enraged bears coming down from the mountains, they fell upon the bandits with such fury that many of them were slain, while the remainder, unwilling to await their onset, fled to a hiding-place which was known to them.

When the gentlemen had worsted these rogues and had slain the host himself among the rest, they heard that the man’s wife was even worse than her husband; and they therefore sent her after him with a sword-thrust. Then they entered a lower room, where they found one of the married gentlemen on the point of death. The other had received no hurt, save that his clothes were all pierced with thrusts and that his sword was broken in two. The poor gentleman, perceiving what help the two had afforded him, embraced and thanked them, and besought them not to abandon him, which was to them a very agreeable request. When they had buried the dead gentleman, and had comforted his wife as well as they were able, they took the road which God set before them, not knowing whither they were going.

If it pleases you to know the names of the three gentlemen, the married one was called Hircan, and his wife Parlamente, the name of the widow being Longarine; of the two lovers one was called Dagoucin and the other Saffredent. After having been the whole day on horseback, towards evening they descried a belfry, whither with toil and trouble they made the best of their way, and on their arrival were kindly received by the Abbot and the monks. The abbey is called St. Savyn.4

The Abbot, who came of an ancient line, lodged them honourably, and when taking them to their apartments inquired of them concerning their adventures. When he had heard the truth, he told them that others had fared as badly as they, for in one of his rooms he had two ladies who had escaped a like danger, or perchance a greater, inasmuch as they had had to do with beasts, and not with men. 5 Half a league on this side of Peyrechitte 6 the poor ladies had met with a bear coming down from the mountain, before whom they had fled with such speed that their horses fell dead under them at the abbey gates. Further, two of their women who arrived a long time afterwards had made report that the bear had killed all the serving-men.

Then the two ladies and the three gentlemen entered the room where these unhappy travellers were, and found them weeping. They recognised them to be Nomerfide and Ennasuite, whereupon they all embraced and recounted what had befallen them. At the exhortations of the good Abbot they began to take comfort in having found one another again, and in the morning they heard mass with much devotion, praising God for the perils from which they had escaped.

While they were all at mass there came into the church 7 a man clad only in a shirt, fleeing as though he were pursued, and crying out for aid. Forthwith Hircan and the other gentlemen went to meet him to see what the affair might mean, and perceived two men behind him with drawn swords.

These, on seeing so great a company, sought to fly, but they were hotly pursued by Hircan and his companions, and so lost their lives. When Hircan came back, he found that the man in the shirt was one of his companions named Geburon, who related to them how while he was in bed at a farmhouse near Peyrechitte three men came upstairs, and how he, although he was in his shirt and had no other weapon but his sword, had stretched one of them on the ground mortally wounded. While the other two were occupied in raising their companion, he, perceiving himself to be naked and the others armed, bethought him that he could not outdo them except it were by flight, as being the least encumbered with clothes. And so he had escaped, and for this he praised God and those who had avenged him.

When they had heard mass and had dined they sent to see if it was possible to cross the river Gave, and on learning that it was not, they were in great dismay. However, the Abbot urgently entreated them to stay with him until the water had abated, and they agreed to remain for that day.

In the evening, as they were going to bed, there arrived an aged monk who was wont to come in September of every year to Our Lady of Serrance. They inquired of him concerning his journey, and he told them that on account of the floods he had come over the mountains and by the worst roads he had ever known. On the way he had seen a very pitiful sight. He had met a gentleman named Simontault, who, wearied by his long waiting for the river to subside, and trusting to the goodness of his horse, had tried to force a passage, and had placed all his servants round about him to break the force of the current. But when they were in the midst of the stream, those who were the worst mounted were swept away, horses and men, down the stream, and were never seen again. The gentleman, finding himself alone, turned his horse to go back, but before he could reach the bank his horse sank under him. Nevertheless, God willed that this should happen so close to the bank that the gentleman was able, by dragging himself on all fours and not without swallowing a great deal of water, to scramble out on to the hard stones, though he was then so weak and weary that he could not stand upright.

By good fortune a shepherd, bringing back his sheep at even, found him seated among the stones, wet to the skin, and sad not only for himself but on account of his servants whom he had seen perish before his eyes. The shepherd, who understood his need even better from his appearance than from his speech, took him by the hand and led him to his humble dwelling, where he kindled some faggots, and so dried him in the best way that he could. The same evening God led thither this good monk, who showed him the road to Our Lady of Serrance assuring him that he would be better lodged there than anywhere else, and would there find an aged widow named Oisille who had been as unfortunate as himself.

When all the company heard tell of the good Lady Oisille and the gentle knight Simontault, they were exceedingly glad, and praised the Creator, who, content with the sacrifice of serving-folk, had preserved their masters and mistresses. And more than all the rest did Parlamente give hearty praise to God, for Simontault had long been her devoted lover.

Then they made diligent inquiry concerning the road to Serrance, and although the good old man declared it to be very difficult, they were not to be debarred from attempting to proceed thither that very day. They set forth well furnished with all that was needful, for the Abbot provided them with wine and abundant victuals,8 and with willing companions to lead them safely over the mountains.

These they crossed more often on foot than on horseback, and after much toil and sweat came to Our Lady of Serrance. Here the Abbot, although somewhat evilly disposed, durst not deny them lodging for fear of the Lord of Beam,9 who, as he was aware, held them in high esteem. Being a true hypocrite, he showed them as fair a countenance as he could, and took them to see the Lady Oisille and the gentle knight Simontault.

The joyfulness of all this company who had been thus miraculously brought together was so great that the night seemed short to them while praising God in the Church for the goodness that He had shown to them. When towards morning they had taken a little rest, they all went to hear mass and receive the holy sacrament of fellowship, in which all Christians are joined together as one, imploring Him who of His mercy had thus united them, that He would further their journey to His glory. After they had dined they sent to learn whether the waters were at all abated, and found that, on the contrary, they were rather increased, and could not be crossed with safety for a long time to come. They therefore determined to make a bridge resting on two rocks which come very close together, and where there are still planks for those foot-passengers who, coming from Oleron, wish to avoid crossing at the ford. The Abbot was well pleased that they should make this outlay, to the end that the number of pilgrims might be increased, and he furnished them with workmen, though he was too avaricious to give them a single farthing.

The workmen declared that they could not finish the bridge in less than ten or twelve days, and all the company, both ladies and gentlemen, began to grow weary. But Parlamente, who was Hircan’s wife, and who was never idle or melancholy, asked leave of her husband to speak, and said to the aged Lady Oisille —

“I am surprised, madam, that you who have so much experience, and now fill the place of mother to all of us women, do not devise some pastime to relieve the weariness we shall feel during our long stay; for if we have not some pleasant and virtuous occupation we shall be in danger of falling ill.”

“Nay,” added the young widow Longarine, “worse than that, we shall become ill-tempered, which is an incurable disease; for there is not one among us but has cause to be exceeding downcast, having regard to our several losses.”

Ennasuite laughing replied —

“Every one has not lost her husband like you, and the loss of servants need not bring despair, since others may readily be found. Nevertheless, I too am of opinion that we should have some pleasant exercise with which to while away the time, for otherwise we shall be dead by to-morrow.”

All the gentlemen agreed with what these ladies said, and begged Oisille to tell them what they should do.

“My children,” she replied, “you ask me for something which I find very difficult to teach you, namely, a pastime that may deliver you from your weariness. I have sought for such a remedy all my life and have never found but one, which is the reading of the Holy Scriptures. In them the mind may find that true and perfect joy from which repose and bodily health proceed. If you would know by what means I continue so blithe and healthy in my old age, it is because on rising I immediately take up the Holy Scriptures 10 and read therein, and so perceive and contemplate the goodness of God, who sent His Son into the world to proclaim to us the Sacred Word and glad tidings by which He promises the remission of all sins and the satisfaction of all debts by the gift that He has made us of His love, passion, and merits.

“The thought of this gives me such joy that I take my Psalter and in all humility sing with my heart and utter with my lips the sweet psalms and canticles which the Holy Spirit put into the heart of David and of other writers. And so acceptable is the contentment that this brings to me, that any evils which may befall me during the day I look upon as blessings, seeing that I have in my heart, through faith, Him who has borne them all for me. In the same way before supper I retire to feed my soul by reading, and then in the evening I call to mind all I have done during the past day, in order that I may ask forgiveness for my sins, thank Him for His mercies, and, feeling safe from all harm, take my rest in His love, fear, and peace. This, my children, is the pastime I have long practised, after making trial of all others and finding in none contentment of spirit. I believe that if you give an hour every morning to reading and then offer up devout prayers during mass, you will find in this lonely place all the beauty that any town could afford. One who knows God sees all things fair in Him, and without Him everything seems uncomely; wherefore, I pray you, accept my advice, if you would live in gladness.”

Then Hircan took up the discourse and said —

“Those, madam, who have read the Holy Scriptures, as I believe we all have done, will acknowledge that what you have said is true. You must, however, consider that we are not yet so mortified that we have not need of some pastime and bodily exercise. When we are at home we have the chase and hawking, which cause us to lay aside a thousand foolish thoughts, and the ladies have their household cares, their work, and sometimes the dance, in all which they find honourable exercise. So, speaking on behalf of the men, I propose that you, who are the oldest, read to us in the morning about the life that was led by Our Lord Jesus Christ and the great and wonderful works that He did for us; and that between dinner and vespers we choose some pastime that shall be pleasant to the body and yet not hurtful to the soul. In this way we shall pass the day cheerfully.”

The Lady Oisille replied that she had been at pains to forget every description of worldly vanity, and she therefore feared that she should succeed but ill in the choice of such an entertainment. The matter must be decided by the majority of opinions, and she begged Hircan to set forth his own first.

“For my part,” said he, “if I thought that the pastime I should choose would be as agreeable to the company as to myself, my opinion would soon be given. For the present, however, I withhold it, and will abide by what the rest shall say.”

His wife Parlamente, thinking he referred to her, began to blush, and, half in anger and half laughing, replied —

“Perhaps, Hircan, she who you think would find it most dull might readily find means of compensation had she a mind for it. But let us leave aside a pastime in which only two can share, and speak of one that shall be common to all.”

“Since my wife has understood the meaning of my words so well,” said Hircan to all the ladies, “and a private pastime is not to her liking, I think she will be better able than any one else to name one that all may enjoy; and I herewith give in to her opinion, having no other of my own.”

To this all the company agreed.

Parlamente, perceiving that it had fallen to her to decide, spoke as follows —

“Did I find myself as capable as the ancients who invented the arts, I should devise some sport or pastime in fulfilment of the charge you lay upon me. But knowing as I do my knowledge and capacity, which are scarcely able to recall the worthy performances of others, I shall think myself happy if I can follow closely such as have already satisfied your request. Among the rest, I think there is not one of you who has not read the Hundred Tales of Boccaccio, 11 lately translated from the Italian into French. So highly were these thought of by King Francis, first of that name, Monseigneur the Dauphin, 12 Madame the Dauphiness, and Madame Margaret, that could Boccaccio have only heard them from the place where he lay, the praise of such illustrious persons would have raised him from the dead.

Now I heard not long since that the two ladies I have mentioned, together with several others of the Court, determined to do like Boccaccio, with, however, one exception — they would not write any story that was not a true one. And the said ladies, and Monseigneur the Dauphin with them, undertook to tell ten stories each, and to assemble in all ten persons, from among those whom they thought the most capable of relating something. Such as had studied and were people of letters were excepted, for Monseigneur the Dauphin would not allow of their art being brought in, fearing lest the flowers of rhetoric should in some wise prove injurious to the truth of the tales. But the weighty affairs in which the King had engaged, the peace between him and the King of England, the bringing to bed of the Dauphiness,13 and many other matters of a nature to engross the whole Court, caused the enterprise to be entirely forgotten.

By reason, however, of our now great leisure, it can be accomplished in ten days, whilst we wait for our bridge to be finished. If it so pleased you, we might go every day from noon till four of the clock into yonder pleasant meadow beside the river Gave. The trees there are so leafy that the sun can neither penetrate the shade nor change the coolness to heat. Sitting there at our ease, we might each one tell a story of something we have ourselves seen, or heard related by one worthy of belief. At the end of ten days we shall have completed the hundred,14 and if God wills it that our work be found worthy in the eyes of the lords and ladies I have mentioned, we will on our return from this journey present them with it, in lieu of images and paternosters,15 and feeling assured that they will hold this to be a more pleasing gift. If, however, any one can devise some plan more agreeable than mine, I will fall in with his opinion.”

All the company replied that it was not possible to give better advice, and that they awaited the morning in impatience, in order to begin.

Thus they spent that day joyously, reminding one another of what they had seen in their time. As soon as the morning was come they went to the room of Madame Oisille, whom they found already at her prayers. They listened to her reading for a full hour, then piously heard mass, and afterwards went to dinner at ten o’clock.16

After dinner each one withdrew to his chamber, and did what he had to do. According to their plan, at noon they failed not to return to the meadow, which was so fair and pleasant that it would need a Boccaccio to describe it as it really was; suffice to say that a fairer was never seen.

When the company were all seated on the green grass, which was so fine and soft that they needed neither cushion nor carpet, Simontault commenced by saying —

“Which of us shall begin before the others?”

“Since you were the first to speak,” replied Hircan,"’tis reasonable that you should rule us; for in sport we are all equal.”

“Would to God,” said Simontault, “I had no worse fortune in this world than to be able to rule all the company present.”

On hearing this Parlamente, who well knew what it meant, began to cough. Hircan, therefore, did not perceive the colour that came into her cheeks, but told Simontault to begin, which he did as presently follows.

1 There are no fewer than twenty-six sources at Cauterets, the waters being either of a sulphureous or a saline character. The mud baths alluded to by Margaret were formerly taken at the Source de César Vieux, half-way up Mount Peyraute, and so called owing to a tradition that Julius Cæsar bathed there. It is at least certain that these baths were known to the Romans. — Ed.

Cauterets is frequently mentioned by the old authors, and Rabelais refers to it in this passage: “Pantagruel’s urine was so hot that ever since that time it has not cooled, and you have some of it in France, at divers places, at Coderetz, Limous, Dast, Ballerue, Bourbonne, and elsewhere” (Book ii. chap, xxxiii.). — M.

2 The Basques give the name of Gave to those watercourses which become torrents in certain seasons. The Bearnese Gave, so named because it passes through the territory of the ancient city of Beam, takes its source in the Pyrenees, and flows past Pau to Sorde, where it joins the Adour, which falls into the sea at Bayonne. It is nowadays generally known as the Gave of Pau. — L. & M.

3 The Abbey of Our Lady of Serrance, or more correctly Sarrances, in the valley of Aspe, was occupied by monks of the Prémontré Order, who were under the patronage of St. Mary. An apparition of the Virgin having been reported in the vicinity, pilgrimages were made to Sarrances on the feasts of her nativity (Sept. 8) and her assumption (Aug. 15). In 1385 Gaston de Foix, who greatly enriched the abbey, built a residence in the neighbourhood, his example being followed by the Gramonts, the Miollens, and other nobles. The pilgrimages had become very celebrated in the fifteenth century, when Louis XI. repaired to Sarrances, accompanied by Coictier, his physician. In 1569, however, the Huguenots pillaged and burned down the abbey, together with the royal and other residences. The monks who escaped the flames were put to the sword. — M. & Ed.

4 The Abbey of St. Savin of Tarbes, situated between Argelèz and Pierrefitte, in what was formerly called the county of Lavedan, is stated to have been founded by Charlemagne; and here the Paladin Roland is said to have slain the giants Alabaster and Passamont to recompense the monks for their hospitality. The abbey took its name from a child (the son of a Count of Barcelona) who led a hermit’s life, and is accredited with having performed several miracles in the neighbourhood. About the year 1100 the Pope, siding with the people of the valley of Aspe in a quarrel between them and the Abbot of St. Savin, issued a bull forbidding the women of Lavedan to conceive for a period of seven years. The animals, moreover, were not to bring forth young, and the trees were not to bear fruit for a like period. The edict remained in force for six years, when the Abbot of St. Savin compromised matters by engaging to pay an annual tribute to Aspe. This tribute was actually paid until the Revolution of 1789. On the other hand, the abbey was entitled to the right shoulder of every stag, boar, and izard (the Pyrenean chamois) killed in the valley, with other tributes of trout, cheese, and flowers, which last the Abbot acknowledged by kissing the prettiest maiden of Argelèz. Amongst various privileges possessed by the monks was that of having their beds made by the girls of the neighbourhood on certain high days and holidays.

In the tenth century Raymond of Bigorre presented the abbey with the valley of Cauterets on condition that a church should be built there and “sufficient houses kept in repair to facilitate the using of the baths.” In 1290 Edward III. of England confirmed the monks of St. Savin in possession of Cauterets. In 1316, when the inhabitants of the latter place wished to change the situation of their village, the Abbot of St. Savin consented, but a woman opposed her veto (all women had the right of vote) and this sufficed to frustrate the scheme. The abbey derived a considerable income from Cauterets, the baths and the houses built there for the accommodation of visitors being let out on lease. The leases of 1617 and 1697 are preserved in the archives of Pau. In the time of Queen Margaret the abbey was extremely wealthy; the Abbot to whom she refers, according to M. Le Roux de Lincy, was probably Raymond de Fontaine, who ruled St. Savin from 1534 to 1540, under the authority of the commendatory abbots, Anthony de Rochefort and Nicholas Dangu, Bishop of Séez. Some of the commentators of the Heptameron believe the latter to have been the original “Dagoucin” who is supposed to tell several of the tales. — Ed.

5 In two MS. copies of the Heptameron in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, numbered respectively 1520 and 1524, after the words “not with men” there follows “in men there is some mercy, but in animals none." — L.

6 Peyrechitte is evidently intended for Pierrefitte, a village on the left bank of the Gave, between Argelèz and Cauterets. — Ed.

7 This church is still in existence. It is mainly in the Romanesque style and almost destitute of ornamentation. There are, however, some antique paintings of St. Savin’s miracles; and the saint’s tomb, which is still preserved, is considered to be some twelve hundred years old. The village is gathered about the church, and forms a wide street lined with houses of the fifteenth century, which Margaret and her friends must have gazed upon during their sojourn here. — Ed.

8 According to MS. No. 1520 (Bib. Nat., Paris), the Abbot also furnished them with the best horses of Lavedan and good “cappes” of Beam. The Lavedan horses were renowned for their speed and spirit, and the Bearnese cappe was a cloak provided with a hood. — B. J.

9 The Kings of Navarre had been Lords of Beam for two centuries, but Beam still retained its old customs and had its special government. The Lord of Beam here referred to was Henry d’Albret, Margaret’s second husband. — B. J.

10 Margaret read a portion of the Scriptures every day, saying that the perusal preserved one “from all sorts of evils and diabolical temptations” (Histoire de Foix, Béarn, et Navarre, by P. Olhagaray, Paris, 1609, p. 502). — L.

11 Margaret here alludes to the French translation of the Decameron made by her secretary, Anthony le Maçon, and first issued in Paris in 1545. Messrs. De Lincy and Montaiglon accordingly think that the prologue of the Heptameron was written subsequently to that date; but M. Dillaye states that Le Maçon’s translation was circulated at Court in manuscript long before it was printed. This contention is in some measure borne out by Le Maçon’s dedication to Margaret, of which the more interesting passages are given in the Appendix [below]. — ED.

12 The Dauphin here mentioned is Francis I.’s second son, who subsequently reigned as Henry II. He became Dauphin by the death of his elder brother on August 10, 1536. The Dauphiness is Catherine de’ Medici, the wife of Henry, whom he married in 1533; whilst Madame Margaret, according to M. de Montaiglon, is the Queen of Navarre herself, she being usually called by that name at her brother’s Court. M. Dillaye, who is of a different opinion, maintains that the Queen would not write so eulogistically of herself, and that she evidently refers to her brother’s daughter, Margaret de Berry, born in 1523, and married to the Duke of Savoy. — Ed.

13 The confinement mentioned here is that of Catherine de Medici, who, after remaining childless during ten years of wedlock, gave birth to a son, afterwards Francis II., in January 1543. The peace previously spoken of would appear to be that signed at Crespy in September 1544. Both M. de Montaiglon and M. Dillaye are of opinion, however, that a word or two is deficient in the MS., and that Margaret intended to imply the rupture of peace in 1543, when Henry VIII. allied himself with the Emperor Charles V. against Francis I. — Ed.

14 This passage plainly indicates that the Queen meant to pen a Decameron. — Ed.

15 This is an allusion to the holy images, medals, and chaplets which people brought back with them from pilgrimages. — B. J.

16 At that period ten o’clock was the Court dinner-hour. Fifty years earlier people used to dine at eight in the morning. Louis XII., however, changed the hour of his meals to suit his wife, Mary of England, who had been accustomed to dine at noon. — B. J.


The dedication with which Anthony Le Maçon prefaces his translation of Boccaccio contains several curious passages. In it Margaret is styled “the most high and most illustrious Princess Margaret of France, only sister of the King, Queen of Navarre, Duchess of Alençon and of Berry;” while the author describes himself as “Master Anthoine Le Maçon, Councillor of the King, Receiver General of his finances in Burgundy, and very humble secretary to this Queen.” He then proceeds to say:—

“You remember, my lady, the time when you made a stay of four or five months in Paris, during which you commanded me, seeing that I had freshly arrived from Florence, where I had sojourned during an entire year, to read to you certain stories of the Decameron of Boccaccio, after which it pleased you to command me to translate the whole book into our French language, assuring me that it would be found beautiful and entertaining. I then made you reply that I felt my powers were too weak to undertake such a work. . . . My principal and most reasonable excuse was the knowledge that I had of myself, being a native of the land of Dauphiné, where the maternal language is too far removed from good French. . . . However, it did not please you to accept any of my excuses, and you showed me that it was not fitting that the Tuscans should be so mistaken as to believe that their Boccaccio could not be rendered in our language as well as it is in theirs, ours having become so rich and so copious since the accession of the King, your brother, to the crown, that nothing has ever been written in any language that could not be expressed in this; and thus your will still was that I should translate it (the Decameron) when I had the leisure to do so. Seeing this and desiring, throughout my life, to do, if I can, even more than is possible to obey you, I began some time afterwards to translate one of the said stories, then two, then three, and finally to the number of ten or twelve, the best that I could choose, which I afterwards showed as much to people of the Tuscan nation as to people of ours, who all made me believe that the stories were, if not perfectly, at least very faithfully translated. Wherefore, allowing myself to be thus pleasantly deceived, if deceit there was, I have since set myself to begin the translation at one end and to finish it at the other. . . . ”

This dedicatory preface is followed by an epistle, written in Italian by Emilio Ferretti, and dated from Lyons, May I, 1545; and by a notice to the reader signed by Etienne Rosset, the bookseller, who in the King’s license, dated from St. Germain-en-Laye, Nov. 2, 1544, is described as “Rosset called the Mower, bookseller, residing in Paris, on the bridge of St. Michael, at the sign of the White Rose.” The first edition of Le Maçon’s translation (1545) was in folio; the subsequent ones of 1548, 1551, and 1553 being in octavo. It should be remembered that Le Maçon’s was by no means the first French version of the Decameron. Laurent du Premier-Faict had already rendered Boccaccio’s masterpiece into French in the reign of Charles VI., but unfortunately his translation, although of a pleasing naïveté, was not at all correct, having been made from a Latin version of the original. Manuscript copies of Laurent’s translation were to be found in the royal and most of the princely libraries of the fifteenth century. — Ed.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57