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with Augustan elegance of Latinity. Such an attitude of mind, however, was too unnatural and strained to be long maintained. Written literature, it was soon found, could not afford to be separated from the spoken language of business and of gaiety. The loss of pith and vitality was ill-concealed under the hollow shell of sonorous elegance. Ciceronianism became ridiculous or childish. But it was more easy for the wits to explode Latinity, than to substitute a better vehicle for the new thoughts which crowded in on society. Not that there was, or could be, any doubt that the substitute must be found in the vernacular. The problem was to make the vernacular equal to the task which was devolved upon it. French in the reign of Henri III. still an unformed tongue. Its grammatical forms, its accent, and its construction, were all undetermined and fluctuating. More than this, it had no associations above the level of ordinary life, and therefore when applied to serious themes it degraded whatever it touched. All who had wanted to use it for such themes felt the necessity of raising the power and compass of the instrument. It was that moment when thought had got ahead of language. The sudden introduction of a complete system of general truths, and of the ripe moral wisdom of the ancient world through the classical revival, had filled the French mind to overflowing. The language as it stood was incapable of furnishing a proper vent for the accumulation of knowledge with which it had become suddenly charged. How was speech to enlarge its boundaries so as to be made more nearly commensurate with the apprehended truths? Two different attempts for the purpose, originating in two very different quarters, were made at the same time.
1. The courtiers, deriving their inspiration from Italy, and especially from Florence, sought to Italianise French. They were guided not by theory, but by fashion. But it was fashion prompted by an instinct-an instinct of good society, turning spontaneously to a more polished instrument of intercourse. France was at this moment receptive of polish, and Italy was at hand to give it. The wave of Italian imitation even reached English shores, as the poetry of Wyatt, Lord Surrey, and others shows. But it was feeble compared with the flood-tide which swept over France in the reigns of Henri II. and Henri III. Of the invasion of the French language by the Italian stranger, the most remarkable monument remaining is Henri Estienne's . Dialogues du Nouveau François Italianisé, 1578.' The extent to which Italianisation had proceeded at Court is vouched by all the Memoirs of the time. We should indeed be wrong if we were to take quite literally all the examples which Estienne's satire pretends to give. We are not to suppose that the Court of Henri III.
talked *Ah! volume. tarque
talked like the “Philausone' in the Dialogues,' any more than we suppose
the Court of Elizabeth talked like “Holofernes' in Love's Labour's Lost.' Extravagances like 'strade' for 'street;' past,' for dinner ;' spaceger,' for ' to walk;' 'garbe,' for 'genteel appearance ;' 'gaffe' for 'awkward;' may have been a passing fashion, or a jest, but cannot give the measure of the extent to which Italian words had actually taken root in the Court jargon. Still less can we agree with M. Feugère that it was owing to Estienne's satire that such an invasion of Italian words was repelled. There is no evidence that the Dialogues were widely read. The book never came to a second edition. The reasoning does not appear to us, at this day, very effective. The satire remains to us as a curiosity; a landmark of an important stage in the history of the French language, and an evidence of Estienne's clear-sightedness in the analogies of language. Yet he allowed himself to be pushed by his theme into an exaggerated purism. He pronounced sentence of exclusion against a number of words which usage has retained. Secrétaire d'état,' négociateur,'nonce,' salve' (of artillery), “fantassin,' 'escadron,
drapeau,' creature' (of a great man), are among the Italian importations of this period which the current of the language has brought down with it from the sixteenth century; individual adventurers who have made good their footing on the territory, while the main body of the invading army was successfully repulsed.
2. That enlargement of the powers of the language which polite conversation sought by an infusion from a living, was attempted by the learned to be obtained from a dead, tongue. The passionate fervour with which the French mind embraced the classical writers when their treasures were first opened to it very soon created the desire to imitate them. French was not only to be modelled upon Greek, but to be largely enriched by direct grafting of Greek words. The school of Ronsard and the Pleiad, the learned poets in the reign of Henri III., gave a transient popularity to this forced system. They were the last who had the enthusiasm of the Renaissance. No school of French writers since then has been in possession of the great tradition of classical antiquity. The exaggerated Grecism of the Pleiad, perhaps, inspired French literature with that aversion for Greek which has ever since marked it; that disgust at ' pedantry,' which prevents French writing from ever rising above the level of good drawing-room conversation.
The • French muse of Ronsard,' says Boileau, 'spoke Greek and Latin.' Yet Ronsard thought himself too scrupulous, and regrets that he did not borrow in a more wholesale manner :
Ah! que je suis marri que la muse française
Certes ! je les dirois du sang valérien!' Henri Estienne denounced in emphatic terms the mistake of the Italianisers, and sided, though with great moderation, with the learned party. Of his trilogy of treatises on this subject the Conformité du Langage Français avec le Grec,' 1565, is an attempt to show that French idiom bears a closer parallel to Greek than to Latin. From this the conclusion is drawn that as Greek is the most perfect of known tongues, French, which has so great affinity with it, must take rank above all other languages. The Dialogues,' 1578, of which we have already spoken, are directed against the Italian innovators. Lastly, the · Précellence du Langage Français,' 1579, is intended to show the intrinsic merits of French French is quite equal, from its own resources solely, to holding the highest place among the modern dialects of Europe. The form of the tract is a comparison of French and Italian. He will confine himself to refuting the claim of Italian to be the first of languages. For if he succeeds in showing that French is more excellent than Italian, à fortiori it is so than Spanish. “Si vinco vincentem te, multo magis vincam te. He apologises, as usual, for the brevity and imperfection of his pleading on the ground of haste. He undertook at the King's request to write it in fifteen days, and without his notes, which he had not brought with him. Consequently he has only been able to produce a coup d'essai,' a prelude to a work, not a work. His title-page bears • Projet du Livre intitulé,' &c. There are men in France who might plead the same cause better than himself. But he does not consider himself the most incompetent. The courtiers affected, indeed, to say that Greek was his province, not French. Well, he could talk Greek, and had done it before now. But for all that he could talk French too They said he travelled so much abroad that the purity of his French was corrupted. Had not the same reproach been cast upon Xenophon, the purest of Attic writers ? These journeys were never for any long period. They even help him. As Plutarch says that painters judge their own works better if they put them aside for a time, so by his occasional absences he has become aware of many an intruding neologism which escapes the notice of those who live always at home. The comparison of Italian with French is conducted upon three points : 1. Gravité, by which he means dignity, or weight. 2. Grace. 3. Copiousness. The last head occupies the larger, and to us more interesting portion of the volume. It was the point on which the classically-educated Frenchman of that time felt more solicitude than on any other. The attempts to translate—and translation was one of the chief occupations of the educated—the juxtaposition of French and Greek, seems to have forced upon them the sense of the comparative poverty of the modern idiom more keenly than any other of its deficiencies. The progress of the language was the ambition of every writer ; and progress was identified with a material increase of the vocabulary. Henri Estienne echoes both these sentiments. But he will not admit that poverty is inherent in the language. French is rich enough, if we know how to use its resources. He does not encourage the project of a Greek loan. He directs us rather to the wealth of words which lurk in the technical vocabulary of the arts, the terms of chase and falconry ; in games, such as mall, more played in France than elsewhere. Old saws and proverbs embalm many valuable words which might be revived. The old romances, of which Henri was a diligent reader, are a real mine of old language. And, lastly, there are the provincial dialects, which must never be permitted to usurp the place of the French, but from which it may borrow much with advantage. The true French is the speech of that district which is still called by the country-people. la France ;' the district between St. Denis and Argenteuil, in which Paris is situated. Readers of Montaigne will recognise the very suggestions made a few years afterwards in the 'Essais' (iii. 5): Et que le Gascon y arrive, si le François n'y peut aller.'
We have dwelt the longer on this tract of Henri Estienne because this ambition to enrich the French language is the great characteristic of this period of French literature. It is a characteristic which it owes to the first contact of the French genius with the treasures of antiquity, the first intoxication of the Revival, when the matured thoughts of Greek and Roman sages were wrested from the doctors and the scholars, and given to the men and women of the world. This was the element which the French understanding with its practical spirit and its clear good sense absorbed from the classics. No country has done less for the mere cultivation of Greek philology. No nation appropriated with more avidity all that part of ancient experience which was applicable to the immediate purposes of life. The Plutarch of Amyot was the companion of Henri IV. Our readers will recal the note, fresh as a Channel breeze, addressed by Henri to the Queen from ship-board off Calais :
• Vive Dieu ! vous ne m'auriez sceu rien mander qui me fust plus agréable que la nouvelle du plaisir de lecture qui vous a prins; Blu
tarque me soubscrit toujours d'une fresche nouveauté ; l'aymer c'est m'aymer, car il a esté longtemps l'instituteur de mon bas aage; ma bonne mère, à laquelle je doibs tout, me mit ce livre entre les mains, encore que je ne fusse à peine plus un enfant de mamelle.'
After appropriation came the necessity of expressing these ideas in their own language. Hence the impatience under its contracted limits, and the desire to expand these limits by a material addition to the stock of usable words. This phase of effort in French literature was a transient one. It did not outlast the sixteenth century. It passed away with the assimilating effort, with the occupation of translation. When French ceased to be continually paralleled with Greek its barrenness ceased to be painfully felt. The occupation of enriching the language with new terms gave way in the next century to the opposite one of selecting and rejecting. This has remained ever since the governing aim of French literary skill. To repel foreign elements, to weed, to exclude, to eliminate, such is the constant tendency of their taste in language. In this way it is, by reversing the procedure of the great writers of the sixteenth century, that French has been modelled and chiselled to that academical finish which is the pride of her approved writers. It has gained neatness, point, and precision at the expense of compass, sweep, and breadth of genius. Notwithstanding the different principles from which they proceed, from that of universal comprehension and that of fastidious exclusiveness, Henri Estienne in the sixteenth, and the academicians of the nineteenth century, are agreed on one point, viz., the pre-eminence of French over every other modern idiom. Estienne, in 1579, predicts that the speech of his country will be the organ of European civilisation with the same assurance with which M. Nisard announces it to us as an accomplished fact, that French is la langue de l'esprit moderne; langue maternelle pour nous; langue adoptive pour quiconque dans les lettres, les sciences, l'art du gouvernement, dont les travaux de l'esprit ou de politique a laissé ou laissera un nom durable.'-Lit. Franç. i. 458.
We should have to rank Henri Estienne among political writers, and in the very highest rank of such writers, could we attribute to him the anonymous Discours merveilleux de la Vie de Catherine de Médicis.' That all the biographers should follow each other in doing so will surprise no one who has observed how in literary history a conjecture passes into a certainty by repetition. We might, however, justly have expected that a monograph couronné by the Academy would have devoted special attention to this point ; for doubts had been thrown out in one