A Short History of French Literature, by George Saintsbury

Chapter 7.

Montaigne and Brantôme.

Disenchantment of the late Renaissance.

A period of enthusiasm passes naturally and almost necessarily into one of scepticism, and it is in no way surprising that the prominent literary figure of the second half of the sixteenth century in France should have taken for his motto rather 'Que sais-je?' than, like Rabelais, 'Sursum Corda.' The early hopes of the Renaissance had been curiously disappointed. The Reformation had resulted not merely in cruel and destructive civil war, but in the formation, in too many cases, of a Protestantism not less imperious and far more illiberal than the Catholicism against which it protested. The economic and social effects of the discovery of the New World had been equally discouraging, and even the recovery of classical learning had produced a race of pedants almost as trifling as the last doting defenders of scholasticism. The evils of the civil state of France, moreover, drove nearly all the best men into the sect of Politiques, or Trimmers, who avowedly regarded high questions of truth and faith as subordinate to a politic opportunism. The age had not lost its power of enjoyment of affairs and of pleasure, but its appetite for higher things was somewhat blunted. In this state of matters a few persons, of whom Montaigne was incomparably the most important, philosophised sceptically about life, and a great many, of whom Brantôme is the most typical, took pleasure in describing the ways and acts of an aristocracy which combined extraordinary luxury and corruption with great love of wit, singular intellectual ability, and a keen interest in war and business.


Michel Eyquem, Sieur de Montaigne213, was born, 'between eleven and twelve o'clock of the day' (the detail is characteristic), on the 28th of February, 1533, at the château from which he derived his name, and which he has made illustrious. Montaigne is situated in the old province of Perigord, or, according to modern nomenclature, in the department of Dordogne and the arrondissement of Bergerac. It is at no great distance from Bordeaux. The family was long believed from a phrase of Montaigne's own to have been of English extraction, introduced during the long tenure of Aquitaine by our sovereigns. But recent and industrious researches have shown that it may with greater probability have been of local origin and yeoman status. Pierre Eyquem, the father, had filled many important municipal offices at Bordeaux. Michel was his third son among nine children, but by the death of his elder brothers he inherited the family estate. He was educated early, and after the manner of a time when education was a subject on which almost all men of independent thought rode hobbies. Latin he learnt by conversation at a very early age, Greek as a kind of amusement. At the mature age of six he was placed at the Collège de Guyenne in Bordeaux, not the least famous of the famous schools of the time, for there it was that Buchanan, Muretus, and Guérente, by the Latin plays which they wrote for their scholars to act, introduced the Senecan drama into France and showed the way to the French tragedy of the Pléiade. Seven years of study completed Montaigne's school education at the age of thirteen, when nowadays boys quit their preparatory cradles. He was set to work at law, but little positive is known of him for many years. In 1554, being then twenty-one, he was made counsellor in the Bordeaux Parlement, and in 1566 he married Françoise de la Chassaigne, daughter of one of his colleagues. Except casual references in the Essays, which are seldom precise, all we know of him during these years is his friendship with Étienne de la Boëtie. He almost certainly served one or more campaigns; but the most positive thing that can be said of his middle life is that, according to an existing inscription of his own, he finally retired, in 1571, on his thirty-eighth birthday, to the château which had become his by his father's death two years previously. He had already translated the Theologia Naturalis of Raymond de Sebonde. In the year of his retirement he edited the works of La Boëtie. But he now began a much more important task. The first two books of the Essais appeared in 1580; and immediately afterwards Montaigne, who suffered from severe internal disorders, undertook a long journey into Italy, Switzerland, and Germany, which occupied nearly a year and a-half. While sojourning at the baths of Lucca, he received the news of his appointment as mayor of Bordeaux, and hastened home. In 1588 he published the third Book of the Essays, and had troubles with the Leaguers in Paris. Four years afterwards, on the 13th September, 1592, he died of quinsy. Although Montaigne's municipal and legal appointments at Bordeaux are all that we know him to have enjoyed, he is styled 'gentleman in ordinary to the king,' and letters extant from and to Charles IX., Henri III., and Henri IV., show him to have enjoyed a considerable social as well as literary position. He was a knight of the Order of St. Michael. By his wife he had several children, but all died young, except one daughter, who survived him and left offspring. His adopted daughter, however, Mademoiselle de Gournay, a celebrated character of the next age, and the first editor of his complete works after his death, is better known.

A complete abstract of Montaigne's work cannot be here attempted, and indeed no such thing is possible, because the work itself is absolutely destitute of general plan and exhibits no unity but a unity of spirit and treatment. Whether Montaigne himself invented the famous title Essays or not, is a matter of the very smallest importance. It is certain that he was the first to give the word its modern meaning, though he dealt with his subjects in a spirit of audacious desultoriness, which many of his successors have endeavoured to imitate, but which few have imitated successfully. His nominal subject is, as a rule, merely a starting-point, or at the most a text. He allows himself to be diverted from it by any game which crosses his path, and diverges as readily from his new direction. Abundant citation from the classics is one of his chief characteristics; but the two main points which differentiate him are, first, the audacious egotism and frankness with which he discourses of his private affairs and exhibits himself in undress; secondly, the flavour of subtle scepticism which he diffuses over his whole work. Both these are susceptible of a good deal of misconstruction, and both no doubt have been a good deal misconstrued. His egotism, like most egotism, is a compound of frankness and affectation, and its sincerity is not, as an attraction, equal to the easy garrulity for which it affords an occasion of display. His scepticism, however, is altogether sui generis. It is not exuberant, like that of Rabelais, nor sneering, like that of Voltaire, nor despairing, like that of Pascal, nor merely inquisitive and scholarly, like that of Bayle. There is no reason for disbelieving Montaigne's sincere and conscious orthodoxy in the ecclesiastical sense. But his own temperament, assisted no doubt by the political and ecclesiastical circumstances already described, by indifferent bodily health, and by the period, if not exactly of excess, at any rate of free living, in his younger days, to which he so constantly alludes, had produced in him a general feeling that the pros and cons of different opinions and actions balance each other more evenly than is generally thought. He looks on life with a kind of ironical enjoyment, and the three books of his Essays might be described as a vast gallery of pictures illustrating the results of his contemplations.

There are some considerable differences between the earlier and later Essays, one of the most obvious of which concerns the point of length. Thus the first book consists of fifty-seven essays, occupying rather more than 500 pages214, or an average of less than ten pages each. The second (exclusive of the long 'Apologie de Raymond Sebonde,' which occupies 300 pages by itself) contains thirty-six essays, of nearly 500 pages in all, or about twelve pages each. These books were published together, and may be presumed to have been written more or less at the same time. But the third and last book, though it contains full 550 pages, has only thirteen essays, which thus average more than forty pages each, though their length is very unequal. Montaigne had, no doubt, found that his pillar-to-post method of discourse was sufficiently attractive to make fresh starting-points and definite titles unnecessary; thus in the third book, his subjects (at least his professed subjects) are sometimes much wider, and sometimes much more whimsical, than in the two first. Oedipus himself could hardly divine the actual subject of the essay 'Sur des Vers de Virgile,' or guess that a paper 'Sur les Coches' would in reality busy itself with the question what virtues are most proper to a sovereign. On the other hand, such large titles as 'De la Vanité de l'Expérience,' etc. give room for almost any and every excursion. All these are in the last book; the shorter essays of the two first for the most part deal more definitely with their nominal subjects, which are most frequently moral brocards: such as 'Le Profit de l'Un est Dommage de l'Autre,' 'Par Divers Moyens on arrive à Pareille Fin,' etc.

In a literary history, however, of the scale and plan of this present, the question of Montaigne's subjects and sentiments, interesting as it is, must not be allowed to obscure the question of the expression which he gave to these sentiments. His book is of the greatest importance in the history of French style, of an importance indeed which has been by no means invariably recognised by French literary historians themselves. It must be remembered that he at once attained, and never lost, an immense popularity. Thus the comparative oblivion which, owing to the reforms of the early seventeenth century and the brilliant period of production which followed them, overtook most of the men of the Renaissance, did not touch Montaigne. He, with Rabelais, remained a well of undefiled French, which all the artificial filtering of Malherbe and Boileau could not deprive of its refreshing and fertilising power. Writing, too, at a period subsequent, instead of anterior to the innovations of the Pléiade, Montaigne was able to incorporate, and thus to save, not a few of the neologisms which, valuable as they were, the purists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries neglected. Many words which his immediate contemporaries, and still more his successors, condemned, have made good their footing in the language, owing beyond all doubt to his influence. His style, too, was valuable for something else besides its vocabulary. It entered so seldom into the plan of Rabelais to write in any other than a burlesque tone, that he was rarely able to display his own incomparable faculty of writing ordinary French, pure, vigorous, graceful, and flexible at once. The tale-tellers and memoir-writers of the time matured an excellent narrative style, but one less suited for other forms of writing. The theologians often obeyed the Latinising influence too implicitly. But Montaigne, with his wide variety of subject, required and wrought out for himself a corresponding variety of style. His very discursiveness and the constant flow of new thoughts that welled up in him helped him to avoid the great curse of all the vulgar tongues in the Renaissance — the long jointed sentence; the easy colloquial manner at which he aimed reflected itself in a style less familiar indeed than avowed burlesque, but at the same time more familiar than any writer had before used in treating of similar subjects. Yet no one was more capable than Montaigne, on the rare occasions when he judged it proper, of showing his mastery of sustained and lofty eloquence. The often-quoted passage in which he rebukes the vanity of man (who, without letters patent or privilege, assumes to himself the honour of being the only created being cognisant of the secret of the universe) yields to nothing that had been written or was to be written for many years, fertile as the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries were in both its characteristics, solemnity and dignity of expression. That a book which was thus rich in vocabulary, richer still in idiosyncrasy of expression, gracefully familiar in general style, and admirably eloquent in occasional passages, should at once become popular, and should remain so, could not be without a happy effect on the general standard of literary taste and the general acquaintance with the capabilities of the French language. That Montaigne himself was a sound critical judge and not merely a lucky practitioner of style, may be judged from his singling out Amyot as the great master of it among his own immediate predecessors. In so far, indeed, as prose style goes, master and scholar must undoubtedly take rank at the head of all the writers of the century when bulk and variety of examples are taken into account.


Although, as has been already noted, Montaigne has many sides, his most striking peculiarity may be said to be the mixture of philosophical speculation, especially on ethical and political topics, with attention to the historical side of human life both in the past and in the present. He was, however, by no means the only teacher of ethics and political philosophy in his century. His own mantle was taken up, or attempted to be taken up, by Pierre Charron215. Born at Paris in 1541, he was thoroughly educated; studied law, in which he proceeded to a doctor's degree, and was called to the Paris bar, but then suddenly entered the Church, and became renowned as a preacher. He even thought of embracing the monastic life — a waste of ability which the ecclesiastical authorities, conscious of their need of eloquent advocates, did not permit. Charron belonged rather to the moderate or politique party than to the fanatics of Catholicism, and he directly attacked the League in his Discours Chrétiens, published in 1589. Five years later appeared a regular theological treatise entitled Les Trois Vérités, affirming, first, the unity of God, and consequently of orthodox religion; secondly, the sole authority of Christianity among religions; thirdly, the sole authority of Catholicism among Christian churches and sects. He held various preferments, and was a member of the special synod held to admit Henri IV. to the Roman communion. The only work by which he is generally remembered, the treatise De la Sagesse, was published in 1601. Charron died two years later, after preparing a second and somewhat altered edition of the book. Charron was a personal friend of Montaigne, was undoubtedly his disciple, and borrowed largely, and in many cases verbally, from the Essais. His book, however, is far inferior both in style and matter to his master's, and Pope's praise of 'more wise Charron' can be due only to the fact that it is much more definitely sceptical. In curious contrast to its author's dogmatically theological treatise, De la Sagesse goes to prove that all religions are more or less of human origin, and that they are all indebted one to the other. The casuistry of the Renaissance on these points was, however, peculiar; and it has been supposed, with great show of reason, that Charron regarded orthodoxy as a valuable and necessary condition for the common run of men, while the elect would prefer a refined Agnosticism.

Du Vair.

These sceptical opinions were by no means the invention of Montaigne; they were part of the new learning grafted by the study of the classics on the thought of the middle ages, and had been long anticipated, not merely in Italy but in France itself. The poet and tale-teller, Bonaventure des Périers, had, as has been said, almost directly satirised Christianity in the Cymbalum Mundi, which created so great a scandal. On the other hand, Guillaume du Vair, a lawyer and speaker of eminence, sought, by combining Stoicism and Christianity, to oppose this sceptical tendency. Du Vair was a writer of great merit, who exactly reversed the course of Charron, beginning with theology and ending with law, though he died in double harness, as keeper of the Seals and bishop of Lisieux. His moral works216 were numerous: Sainte Philosophie, De la Philosophie des Stoiques, De la Constance et Consolation des Calamités Publiques. He translated, not merely Epictetus, which may be regarded as part of his ethical work, but numerous speeches of the Greek and Latin orators. He was himself a great speaker, and his best work is his Discours sur la Loi Salique, which contributed powerfully to the overthrow of the project for recognising the Infanta as Queen of France. He also wrote a regular treatise on French oratory. The style of Du Vair is modelled with some closeness on his classical patterns, but without any trace of pedantry.

Bodin and other Political Writers.

A greater name than Du Vair's in purely philosophical politics is that of Jean Bodin217, the author of the only work of great excellence on the science of politics before the eighteenth century. Bodin was born at Angers in 1530, became a lawyer, was king's procureur at Laon, and died there in 1596. His great work, entitled after Plato La République, appeared in 1578. It was first published in French, but afterwards enlarged and reissued by the author in Latin. Bodin follows both Plato and Aristotle to some extent, but especially Aristotle, in his approach and treatment of his subject. But, unlike his masters, Bodin declares for absolute monarchy, of course wisely and temperately administered. The general literary sentiment was perhaps the other way. The affection of Montaigne, and a certain fertility of rhetorical commonplace which has always seduced Frenchmen in political matters, have given undue reputation to the Contre-un or Discours de la Servitude volontaire of Étienne de la Boëtie218. In reality it is but a schoolboy theme, recalling the silly chatter about Harmodius and Brutus which was popular at the time of the Revolution. Many other political works were published in the course of the religious wars, but having been for the most part written in Latin, or translated by others than their authors, they do not concern us. The excellent Michel de l'Hospital, however, published many speeches, letters, and pamphlets on the side of conciliation, for the most part better intended than written; and the famous Protestants La Noue and Duplessis-Mornay were frequent writers on political subjects.


The complement and counterpart of this moralising on human business and pleasure is necessarily to be found in chronicles of that business and that pleasure as actually pursued. In these the sixteenth century is extraordinarily rich. Correspondence had hardly yet attained the importance in French literature which it afterwards acquired, but professed history and, still more, personal memoirs were largely written. The name of Brantôme219 has been chosen as the central and representative name of this section of writers, because he is on the whole the most original and certainly the most famous of them. His work, moreover, has more than one point of resemblance to that of the great contemporary author with whom he is linked at the head of this chapter. Brantôme neither wrote actual history nor directly personal memoirs. His work rather consists of desultory biographical essays, forming a curious pendant to the desultory moral essays of Montaigne. But around him rank many writers, some historians pure and simple, some memoir-writers pure and simple, of whom not a few approach him in literary genius, and surpass him in correctness and finish of style, while almost all exceed him in whatever advantage may be derived from uniformity of plan, and from regard to the decencies of literature.

Pierre de Bourdeilles (who derived the name by which he is, and indeed was during his lifetime, generally known from an abbacy given to him by Henri II. when he was still a boy) was born about 1540, in the province of Perigord, but the exact date and place of his birth have not been ascertained. He was the third son of François, Comte de Bourdeilles, and his mother, Anne de Vivonne de la Chataigneraie, was the sister of the famous duellist whose encounter with Jarnac his nephew has described in a well-known passage. In the court of Marguerite d'Angoulême, the literary nursery of so great a part of the talent of France at this time, he passed his early youth, went to school at Paris and at Poitiers, and was made Abbé de Brantôme at the age of sixteen. He was thus sufficiently provided for, and he never took any orders, but was a courtier and a soldier throughout the whole of his active life. Indeed almost the first use he made of his benefice was to equip himself and a respectable suite for a journey into Italy, where he served under the Maréchal de Brissac. He accompanied Mary Stuart to Scotland, served in the Spanish army in Africa, volunteered for the relief of Malta from the Turks, and again for the expedition destined to assist Hungary against Soliman, and in other ways led the life of a knight-errant. The religious wars in his own country gave him plenty of employment; but in the reigns of Charles IX. and Henri III. he was more particularly attached to the suite of the queen dowager and her daughter Marguerite. He was, however, somewhat disappointed in his hopes of recompense; and after hesitating for a time between the Royalists, the Leaguers, and the Spaniards, he left the court, retired into private life, and began to write his memoirs, partly in consequence of a severe accident. He seems to have begun to write about 1594, and he lived for twenty years longer, dying on the 15th of July, 1614.

The form of Brantôme's works is, as has been said, peculiar. They are usually divided into two parts, dealing respectively with men and women. The first part in its turn consists of many sub-divisions, the chief of which is made up of the Vies des Grands Capitaines Étrangers et Français, while others consist of separate disquisitions or essays, Des Rodomontades Espagnoles, 'On some Duels and Challenges in France' and elsewhere, 'On certain Retreats, and how they are sometimes better than Battles,' etc. Of the part which is devoted to women the chief portion is the celebrated Dames Galantes, which is preceded by a series of Vies des Dames Illustres, matching the Grands Capitaines. The Dames Galantes is subdivided into eight discourses, with titles which smack of Montaigne, as thus, 'Qu'il n'est bien séant de parler mal des honnestes dames bien qu'elles fassent l'amour,' 'Sçavoir qui est plus belle chose en amour,' etc. These discourses are, however, in reality little but a congeries of anecdotes, often scandalous enough. Besides these, his principal works, Brantôme left divers Opuscula, some of which are definitely literary, dealing chiefly with Lucan. None of his works were published in his lifetime, nor did any appear in print until 1659. Meanwhile manuscript copies had, as usual, been multiplied, with the result, also usual, that the text was much falsified and mutilated.

The great merit of Brantôme lies in the extraordinary vividness of his powers of literary presentment. His style is careless, though it is probable that the carelessness is not unstudied. But his irregular, brightly coloured, and easily flowing manner represents, as hardly any age has ever been represented, the characteristics of the great society of his time. It is needless to say that the morals of that time were utterly corrupt, but Brantôme accepts them with a placid complacency which is almost innocent. No writer, perhaps, has ever put things more disgraceful on paper; but no writer has ever written of such things in such a perfectly natural manner. Brantôme was in his way a hero-worshipper, though his heroes and heroines were sometimes oddly coupled. Bayard and Marguerite de Valois represent his ideals, and a good knight or a beautiful lady de par le monde can do no wrong. This unquestioning acceptance of, and belief in, the moral standards of his own society, give a genuineness and a freshness to his work which are very rare in literature. Few writers, again, have had the knack of hitting off character, superficially it is true, yet with sufficient distinction, which Brantôme has. There is something individual about all the innumerable characters who move across his stage, and something thoroughly human about all, even the anonymous men and women, who appear for a moment as the actors in some too frequently discreditable scene. With all this there is a considerable vein of moralising in Brantôme which serves to throw up the relief of his actual narratives. He has sometimes been compared to Pepys, but, except in point of garrulity and of readiness to set down on paper anything that came into their heads, there is little likeness between the two. Brantôme was emphatically an écrivain (unscholarly and Italianised as his phrase sometimes appears, if judged by the standards of a severer age), and some of the best passages from his works are among the most striking examples of French prose.


Next to Brantôme, and in some respects above him, though of a somewhat less remarkable idiosyncrasy, come Montluc, La Noue, and D'Aubigné, with Marguerite de Valois not far behind. Blaise de Lasseran-Massencôme, Seigneur de Montluc220, was a typical cadet de Gascogne, though he was not, strictly speaking, a cadet, being the eldest son of a fortuneless house. He became page to Antoine of Lorraine, and made his first campaign under the orders of Bayard, fighting through the whole of the Italian war, and being knighted on the field at Cérisoles. In the next reign he was promoted to high command, and held Sienna against the Imperialists with distinguished gallantry and skill. When the civil war broke out he was made Governor of Guyenne, where he maintained order with the strong hand, 'heading and hanging' Catholics and Protestants alike, if they showed signs of disloyalty. Ruthless as he was, he was one of the few great officers who refused to participate in the massacre of St. Bartholomew. He was made a marshal in 1574, and died three years later. Montluc's Memoirs are purely military, and the most famous description of them is that of Henri IV., who called them the soldier's Bible. His style is concise, free from the slightest attempt at elaborate ornament, but admirably picturesque and clear. His account of his exploit at Sienna is one of the capital chapters of French military history. But almost any page of Montluc possesses eminently the characteristics which great generals from Cæsar downwards have almost uniformly displayed, when they possess any literary talent at all. The words and sentences are marshalled and managed like an army; everything goes straight to the point; there is no confusion, and the whole complicated scene is as clear as a geometrical diagram.

La Noue.

The Memoirs of La Noue are usually spoken of separately, though in reality they form a part of his Discours Politiques et Militaires. François de la Noue, called Bras-de-Fer (a surname which he deserved not metaphorically, but literally, having had to replace one of his arms shot off during a siege), was a Breton, and of a good family. He was born in 1531, fought through the religious wars, escaped St. Bartholomew by being Alva's prisoner in Flanders, took an active part against the League, and died at the siege of Lamballe, Aug. 4, 1591. His defence of La Rochelle was one of the chief of his many feats of arms. The 'Discourses' were published during his life. They are of a more reflective character than those of Montluc, and display much greater mental cultivation. The style is not quite so vivid, the sentences are longer and more charged with thought. La Noue, in short, is a philosophical soldier and a politician. His style is perhaps less archaic than that of any of his contemporaries, and is distinguished by a remarkable strength, sobriety, and precision. He was very highly thought of by both political parties, and was not unfrequently employed in schemes of mediation. It is a pleasant story, and not irrelevant in a history of literature, that a scheme for his assassination during one of his visits to Paris was discovered by Brantôme, who warned his future craftsfellow of it.

Agrippa d'Aubigné.

Agrippa d'Aubigné belongs to this section of the subject by his Vie à ses Enfants, often called his memoirs, by his Histoire Universelle, and by a great number of letters. The same qualities which distinguish D'Aubigné in verse are recognisable in his prose, his passionate and insubordinate temper, the keenness of his satire, the somewhat turbid grandeur of his style and images, the vigour and picturesqueness of occasional traits. The Histoire Universelle and the Vie à ses Enfants were both works written in old age, but there is hardly any sign of failing power in them. The Vie in particular contains many passages, such as the vision of his mother and the passionate charge which his father laid upon him at the sight of the victims of the Amboise conspiracy, which rank very high among the prose of the century. The Histoire Universelle, like the book which Raleigh wrote almost at the same time, and under not dissimilar circumstances, is necessarily in great part a compilation, but has many passages worthy of its author at his best.

Marguerite de Valois.

The Memoirs of Marguerite de Valois contain what is perhaps the best-known and oftenest quoted passage of any memoirs of the time, that in which the Princess describes the night of St. Bartholomew. There are not many such stirring passages in them, but throughout Marguerite gives evidence of the remarkable talent which distinguished the Valois. Her evident object is to justify herself, and this makes the book somewhat artificial. It is dedicated to Brantôme, but shows in its manner rather the influence of Ronsard and the Pléiade by the classical correctness of the style, the absence of archaisms, and the precision and form of the sentences. According to the principles of the school, the vocabulary is simple and vernacular enough, for the Pléiade regarded ornate classicisms of language as proper to poetry.

In a rank not much below those mentioned must be placed the so-called Mémoires de Vieilleville, the Chronologies of Palma-Cayet, the Registres-Journaux of Pierre de l'Estoile, the Letters of Duplessis-Mornay, Cardinal d'Ossat, and Henri IV. himself, and the Négotiations of the President Jeannin.


The Maréchal de Vieilleville was one of the foremost French generals of the sixteenth century, and, considering the violent and unscrupulous ways of the time, he had a good reputation for moderation, probity, and patriotism, as well as for courage and ability. His Memoirs are not his own work, but that of his secretary and lifelong companion, Vincent Carloix. They have some of the defects of a deliberate panegyric; but Carloix is a vigorous and able writer, who, without completely emancipating himself from the tyranny of the long involved sentence, contrives to write clearly, and often with much picturesque effect.


Pierre Victor Palma-Cayet was of mean extraction, but received a good education, and was introduced by La Noue to Jeanne d'Albret as a suitable assistant-tutor for her son. After the accession of his pupil, he was appointed to various offices, one of which, that of Chronologer Royal, no doubt occasioned the odd titles of his two principal works, Chronologie Novénaire and Chronologie Septénaire, which give the history of Henri's reign, dividing it into two portions, the one of nine years, the other of seven. Cayet also wrote several minor works, and divides with D'Aubigné the doubtful honour of being the author of the Divorce Satirique, a scurrilous pamphlet against Marguerite. The Chronologies are extremely full of matter, and admirably precise in their information, but their literary value is not great.

Pierre de l'Estoile.

From this point of view Pierre de l'Estoile221 is of a higher class. He was a lawyer of rank and an indefatigable writer. Day by day he put down in his Tablettes all sorts of public and private affairs, as well as literary extracts, obituary notices, and, in short, almost the entire material of a modern newspaper. Pierre de l'Estoile, much more than Brantôme, is the French Pepys. Although occasionally prejudiced, the writer seems to have been acute and well-informed, and his manner of dealing with his heterogeneous materials is light and lively.


Of the three correspondence-writers just mentioned, though Henri himself is a vigorous and fertile writer, the most important by far is Cardinal D'Ossat. He was born in the south of France in 1536, and had not, unlike many of the diplomatist ecclesiastics of the period, the advantage of high birth. Like many of his contemporaries, he began as a lawyer and only subsequently took orders. He began diplomatic life as Secretary to the Archbishop of Toulouse, who was ambassador at Rome, and later on conducted the negotiations which led to the conversion of Henri IV. He then became Bishop of Rennes and cardinal. His letters are almost entirely devoted to subjects connected with his profession, and have always held a position as one of the earliest models of diplomatic writing. D'Ossat's style, especially in respect of its vocabulary, was long regarded as a pattern, but it has less character than that of some other sixteenth-century writers.


The last two books to be named belong, in point of date, to the next century, but were written by, or for, men who were emphatically of the sixteenth. The extraordinary form of Sully's Memoirs is well known. They are neither written as if by himself, nor of him as by a historian of the usual kind. They are directly addressed to the hero in the form of an elaborate reminder of his own actions. 'You then said this;' 'his Majesty thereupon sent you there;' 'when you were two leagues from your halting-place, you saw a courier coming,' etc. It is needless to say that this manner of telling history is in the highest degree unnatural and heavy, and, after the first quaintness of it wears off, it makes the book very hard to read. It contains, however, a very large number of short memoirs and documents of all kinds, in which the elaborate farce of 'Vous' is perforce abandoned. It shows Sully as he was — a great and skilful statesman: but it does not give a pleasant idea of his character.


Pierre Jeannin was, like D'Ossat, a diplomatist in the service of Henri IV. He had previously discharged many legal functions of importance, and subsequently he was Controller-General of the Finances. His Négotiations contain the record of his proceedings on a mission to the Netherlands to watch over the interests of France. The book consists of letters, despatches, treaties, and such-like documents, very clear, precise, and written in a remarkably simple and natural style.

Minor Memoir-writers.

There were many other writers of memoirs during the period, most of whose works are comprised in the invaluable collections of Petitot, Michaud, Poujoulat, and Buchon. But few of them require a separate mention here. Guillaume and Martin du Bellay, two brothers, have left a history of Francis I.'s reign, of which the part belonging to Guillaume is only a small fragment of an immense work which he entitled Les Ogdoades, it being divided into seven batches of eight books each. The imitation of the classics is obvious, and the constant intrusion of classical parallels rather tedious. The Memoirs of the Duke of Guise, composed in great part of what we should call his secretary's letter-book, are very voluminous, but not of much literary value. François de Rabutin, author of Commentaires des Guerres de la Gaule Belgique, has the fault, common to his time, of enormous sentences, but is often lively and picturesque enough, as becomes a member of the family of Madame de Sévigné and of Bussy-Rabutin. The famous Marshal de Tavannes, on whom more than on any single man rests the blood of St. Bartholomew's Day, found a biographer in his son Jean de Tavannes, whose work, though somewhat too elaborate, is interesting. Another son, Guillaume de Saulx-Tavannes, has written his own memoirs on a smaller scale. The memoirs of Michel de Castelnau show more of the tradition of Comines than most of their contemporaries, and are remarkably full of political studies. Boyvin du Villars, of whom little is known, left voluminous memoirs which have some literary merit. The last book of memoirs of some size which needs to be mentioned, is that of Nicholas de Neufville, Seigneur de Villeroy, a politician of eminence and a vigorous writer. Some short pieces may be noticed, such as the Siege of Metz, by Bertrand de Salignac, that of St. Quentin, by Coligny himself, the only literary monument of the Admiral (an excellent specimen of the military writing of the time), and a very curious history of Annonay in the Vivarais by Achille Gamon, which gives perhaps the liveliest idea obtainable of the sufferings of the French provincial towns during the religious wars.

General Historians.

The general histories, which make up a second class of historical writings, are, as a rule, of very much less value than these personal memoirs. Not till the extreme end of the period did the historical conception take a firm hold in De Thou, and the Thuana was written in Latin, which excludes it and its author from detailed notice here. D'Aubigné's Histoire Universelle of his own time has been mentioned for convenience' sake already. Lancelot de la Popelinière attempted in the last quarter of the century a general history of France, and incidentally of Europe during his own day. He is said to have spent all his fortune on getting together the materials, but his literary powers were small. About the same time Bernard Girard, Seigneur du Haillan, published a history of France from the earliest times, which an extract of Thierry's, giving the speeches of Charamond and Quadrek, Merovingians of Du Haillan's own creation, who speak on the advantages of different forms of government at the election of Pharamond, has made known to many persons who never saw the original. The source of this grotesque imagination is of course obvious to readers of Herodotus, and similar imitation of classical models is frequent in Du Haillan's work. François de Belleforest also wrote a general history of France, which was long read, and the names of Du Tillet, Jean de Serres, Charron, Dupleix, etc. may be mentioned. But they represent writers of little importance, either from the point of view of history, or from that of literature.

213 The standard edition until recently has been that of Le Clerc (4 vols. Paris, 1866). That of Louandre in the Bibliothèque Charpentier is handy and useful. MM. Courbet and Roger have begun a handsome edition.

214 The references are to the edition of Louandre.

215 De la Sagesse. 2 vols. Paris, 1789.

216 Ed. 1641.

217 Ed. 1578.

218 Ed. Feugère. Paris, 1846.

219 Ed. Buchon. 2 vols. Paris, 1839. The Société de l'Histoire de France has a voluminous edition on hand. Mérimée, who was a great admirer of Brantôme, began an edition for the Bibliothèque Elzévirienne, but left it unfinished.

220 Montluc's Memoirs, as well as most of those mentioned below, will be found in the collection of Michaud and Poujoulat.

221 The earlier editions of this writer are not complete. In 1875 a full reprint was begun.


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