The Heptameron, by Marguerite de Navarre

Dedications and Preface,

Prefixed to the First Two Editions of the Tales of the Queen of Navarre.

To the most Illustrious, most Humble, and most Excellent Princess,

Madame Margaret de Bourbon,

Duchess of Nevers, Marchioness of Illes, Countess of Eu, of Dreux, Rételois, Columbiers, and Beaufort, Lady of Aspremont, of Cham-Regnault, of Arches, Rencaurt, Monrond, and La Chapelle-d’Angylon, Peter Boaistuau surnamed Launay, offers most humble salutation and perpetual obedience.1

1 This dedicatory preface appeared in the first edition of Queen Margaret’s Tales, published by Boaistuau in 1558 under the title of Histoires des Amans Fortunez. The Princess addressed was the daughter of Charles, Duke of Vendôme; she was wedded in 1538 to Francis of Cleves, Duke of Nevers, and by this marriage became niece to the Queen of Navarre. — Ed.

Madam, That great oracle of God, St. John Chrysostom, deplores with infinite compassion in some part of his works the disaster and calamity of his century, in which not only was the memory of an infinity of illustrious persons cut off from among mankind, but, what is more, their writings, by which the rich conceptions of their souls and the divine ornaments of their minds were to have been consecrated to posterity, did not survive them. And certainly with most manifest reason did this good and holy man address such a complaint to the whole Christian Republic, touched as he was with just grief for an infinity of thousands of books, of which some have been lost and buried in eternal forgetfulness by the negligence of men, others dispersed and destroyed by the cruel incursions of war, others rotted and spoiled as much by the rigour of time as by carelessness to collect and preserve them; whereof the ancient Histories and Annals furnish a sufficient example in the memorable library of that great King of Egypt, Ptolemy Phila-delphus, which had been formed with the sweat and blood of so many notable philosophers, and maintained, ordered, and preserved by the liberality of that great monarch. And yet in less than a day, by the monstrous and abominable cruelty of the soldiers of Cæsar, when the latter followed Pompey to Alexandria, it was burned and reduced to ashes. Zonarius, the ecclesiastical historian, writes that the same happened at Constantinople in the time of Zeno, when a superb and magnificent palace, adorned with all sorts of manuscript books, was burnt, to the eternal regret and insupportable detriment of all those who made a profession of letters. And without amusing ourselves too curiously in recounting the destruction among the ancients, we have in our time experienced a similar loss — of which the memory is so recent that the wounds thereof still bleed in all parts of Europe — namely, when the Turks besieged Buda, the capital of Hungary, where the most celebrated library of the good King Matthias was pillaged, dispersed, and destroyed; a library which, without sparing any expense, he had enriched with all the rarest and most excellent books, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic, that he had been able to collect in all the most famous provinces of the earth.

Again, he who would particularise and closely examine things will find that Theophrastes, as he himself declares, wrote and composed three hundred volumes, Chrysippus sixty, Empedocles fifty, Servus Sulpicius two hundred on civil law, Gallienus one hundred and thirty on the art of medicine, and Origenes six thousand, all of which St. Jerome attests having read; and yet, of so many admirable and excellent authors, there now remain to us only some little fragments, so debased and vitiated in several places, that they seem abortive, and as if they had been torn from their author’s hands by force.

On account of which, my Lady, since the occasion has offered, I have been minded to present all these examples, with the object of exhorting all those who treasure books and keep them sequestered in their sanctuaries and cabinets, to henceforth publish them and bring them to light, not only so that they may not keep back and bury the glory of their ancestors, but also that they may not deprive their descendants of the profit and pleasure which they might derive from the labour of others.

In regard to myself, I will set forth more amply in the notice which I will give to the reader the motive that induced me to put my hand to the work of the present author, who has no need of trumpet and herald to exalt and magnify her2 greatness, inasmuch as there is no human eloquence that could portray her more forcibly than she has portrayed herself by the celestial strokes of her own brush; I mean by her other writings, in which she has so well expressed the sincerity of her doctrines, the vivacity of her faith, and the uprightness of her morals, that the most learned men who reigned in her time were not ashamed to call her a prodigy and miracle of nature. And albeit that Heaven, jealous of our welfare, has snatched her from this mortal habitation, yet her virtues rendered her so admirable and so engraved her in the memory of every one, that the injury and lapse of time cannot efface her from it; for we shall ceaselessly mourn and lament for her, like Antimachus the Greek poet wept for Lysidichea, his wife, with sad verses and delicate elegies which describe and reveal, her virtues and merits.

2 In the French text Boaistuau invariably refers to the author as a personage of the masculine sex, with the evident object of concealing the real authorship of the work. Feminine pronouns have, however, been substituted in the translation, as it is Queen Margaret who is referred to. — Ed.

Therefore, my Lady, as this work is about to be exposed to the doubtful judgment of so many thousands of men, may it please you to take it under your protection and into your safe keeping; for, whereas you are the natural and legitimate heiress of all the excellencies, ornaments, and virtues which enriched the author while she adorned by her presence the surprise of the earth, and which now by some marvellous ray of divinity live and display themselves in you, it is not possible that you should be defrauded of the fruit of the labour which justly belongs to you, and for which the whole universe will be indebted to you now that it comes forth into the light under the resplendent shelter of your divine and heroic virtues.

May it therefore please you, my Lady, to graciously accept of this little offering, as an eternal proof of my obedience and most humble devotion to your greatness, pending a more important sacrifice which I prepare for the future.

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