The Heptameron, by Marguerite de Navarre


The first printed version of the famous Tales of Margaret of Navarre, issued in Paris in the year 1558, under the title of “Histoires des Amans Fortunez,” was extremely faulty and imperfect. It comprised but sixty-seven of the seventy-two tales written by the royal author, and the editor, Pierre Boaistuau, not merely changed the order of those narratives which he did print, but suppressed numerous passages in them, besides modifying much of Margaret’s phraseology. A somewhat similar course was adopted by Claude Gruget, who, a year later, produced what claimed to be a complete version of the stories, to which he gave the general title of the Heptameron, a name they have ever since retained. Although he reinstated the majority of the tales in their proper sequence, he still suppressed several of them, and inserted others in their place, and also modified the Queen’s language after the fashion set by Boaistuau. Despite its imperfections, however, Gruget’s version was frequently reprinted down to the beginning of the eighteenth century, when it served as the basis of the numerous editions of the Heptameron in beau langage, as the French phrased it, which then began to make their appearance. It served, moreover, in the one or the other form, for the English and other translations of the work, and down to our own times was accepted as the standard version of the Queen of Navarre’s celebrated tales. Although it was known that various contemporary MSS. were preserved at the French National Library in Paris, no attempt was made to compare Gruget’s faulty version with the originals until the Société des Bibliophiles Français entrusted this delicate task to M. Le Roux de Lincy, whose labours led to some most valuable discoveries, enabling him to produce a really authentic version of Margaret’s admired masterpiece, with the suppressed tales restored, the omitted passages reinstated, and the Queen’s real language given for the first time in all its simple gracefulness.

It is from the authentic text furnished by M. Le Roux de Lincy that the present translation has been made, without the slightest suppression or abridgment. The work moreover contains all the more valuable notes to be found in the best French editions of the Heptameron, as well as numerous others from original sources, and includes a résumé of the various suggestions made by MM. Félix Frank, Le Roux de Lincy, Paul Lacroix, and A. de Montaiglon, towards the identification of the narrators of the stories, and the principal actors in them, with well-known personages of the time. An Essay on the Heptameron from the pen of Mr. George Saintsbury, M.A., and a Life of Queen Margaret, are also given, as well as the quaint Prefaces of the earlier French versions; and a complete bibliographical summary of the various editions which have issued from the press.

It may be supposed that numerous illustrated editions have been published of a work so celebrated as the Heptameron, which, besides furnishing scholars with a favourite subject for research and speculation, has, owing to its perennial freshness, delighted so many generations of readers. Such, however, is not the case. Only two fully illustrated editions claim the attention of connoisseurs. The first of these was published at Amsterdam in 1698, with designs by the Dutch artist, Roman de Hooge, whose talent has been much overrated. To-day this edition is only valuable on account of its comparative rarity. Very different was the famous edition illustrated by Freudenberg, a Swiss artist — the friend of Boucher and of Greuze — which was published in parts at Berne in 1778-81, and which among amateurs has long commanded an almost prohibitive price.

The Full-page Illustrations to the present translation are printed from the actual copperplates engraved for the Berne edition by Longeuil, Halbou, and other eminent French artists of the eighteenth century, after the designs of S. Freudenberg. There are also the one hundred and fifty elaborate head and tail pieces executed for the Berne edition by Dunker, well known to connoisseurs as one of the principal engravers of the Cabinet of the Duke de Choiseul.

The Portrait of Queen Margaret placed as frontispiece to the present volume is from a crayon drawing by Clouet, preserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

Ernest A. Vizetelly.


Explanation of the Initials appended to the Notes.

B.J . . . Bibliophile Jacob, i.e. Paul Lacroix.
D. . . . . F. Dillaye.
F. . . . . Félix Frank.
L. . . . . Le Roux de Lincy.
M. . . . . Anatole de Montaiglon.
Ed. . . . E. A. Vizetelly.

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