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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
José-Maria de Heredia (1842–1905)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Maurice Francis Egan (1852–1924)
 
IT is generally supposed that the sonnet had its origin in Sicily. Sainte-Beuve, who himself wrote sonnets, admits that the sonnet was Italian first: “Du Bellay, le premierque l’apporta de Florence.” But before Petrarch was Thibaut, King of Navarre. Some Italian writers claim for Ludovico della Vernaccia (1200) the honor of having written the first sonnet in their language. The secretary of Frederick the Second of Sicily wrote the celebrated ‘Pero’ ch’ amore.’ The Provençals say that the rhymes of the sonnet are imitations of the recurring tinkling of the sheep-bells; hence the name sonnette. At any rate, the French have loved the sonnet almost as well as the Italians, although they see it from a somewhat different point of view. When the famous Madame De Longueville needed excitement, after the turmoil of a furious life, she made a party for Voiture, a sonneteer of the seventeenth century, against another, Benserade. The rivalry was fierce; all Paris was divided. The interest in the rivals was as intense as, later, between the Classicists and Romanticists when Victor Hugo wrote ‘Hernani.’ But for two centuries France had not announced the possession of a great sonnet-writer, when suddenly the Academy admitted José de Heredia to a seat among the Immortals. He was elected on February 22d, 1894, in place of M. Mazade, receiving nineteen votes out of thirty-two; and he was welcomed by M. François Coppée.  1
  José-Maria de Heredia was born on November 22d, 1842, at Fortuna-Cafeyere, near Santiago de Cuba. He began his studies at the college of St. Vincent at Senlis, in France, and continued them at the University of Havana, and in Paris at the École des Chartes. He translated and edited Bernal Díaz’s ‘Conquests in New Spain,’ with notes which gave him a reputation for acute and scrupulous research and intelligent application of it. From the year 1862 he had, beginning with the Revue de Paris, contributed to the leading Parisian periodicals, including the Temps, the Journal des Débats, and the Revue des Deux Mondes. He disappointed the hopes of admirers who thirsted for the results of his studies in the École des Chartes and wanted more light on South-American history; but he delighted the literary circles by his poems ‘Les Trophées’ and ‘Les Conquérants.’ The volume containing these poems has already reached its fifteenth edition.  2
  Such a demand for verse of no “popular” quality is remarkable. In truth, Heredia despises what is called “popularity.” He makes no concessions to it, and keeps himself as much as possible in the mood of Maurice de Guérin, who disliked to have a poem read outside of his intimate circle. He seems to rejoice in overcoming difficulties in form for the sake of overcoming them, and at the same time making his thought or mood permeate the form. The divisions of ‘Les Trophées’ show the specially literary quality of the mind of Heredia. It opens with ‘Greece and Sicily’; this series of sonnets including ‘Hercules and the Centaurs,’ Artemis and the Nymphs,’ and ‘Perseus and Andromeda.’ The series that follows is called ‘Rome and the Barbarians,’ including the sonnets suggested by Catullus in the group ‘Hortorum Deus.’ Then come ‘The Middle Age and the Renaissance,’ ‘The Orient and the Tropics,’ and ‘Les Conquérants.’ ‘The Conquerors of Gold’ and ‘Romancero’ are not in the sonnet form. Some of the most exquisite sonnets written in France are to be found in ‘Les Trophées.’ It was no surprise to the readers of Heredia when he was elected to the Academy,—which, although Daudet may parody it and outsiders revile it, cares more for quality than quantity. But to most of the English-speaking world it was a matter of amazement. The London critics, anxious to celebrate the new Academician, were at first in doubt as to who he was. They were equally amazed to find that this slim book, ‘Les Trophées,’ had gone through at least ten editions; but since his election Heredia is better known, and his poems are appreciated by those who love to see human knowledge and human feeling preserved like roses in a block of imperishable crystal, carved in a thousand forms of beauty.  3
  Heredia’s impression of the sonnet is somewhat different from the Italian, but not less difficult. In form it is Petrarcan as to the octave, and it has no affinity with that English sonnet which closes with the snappy couplet. The Italian sonnet is a syllogism, more or less carefully concealed in a mist of sentiment. The French form, while it holds to the quatrain followed by the two tercets, demands a veiled climax in the second tercet. It must have a certain element of surprise. The tercet adds a glow to the stately quatrain. In Italian, the sextet draws the conclusion or applies the principle suggested by the quatrain. Henri Taine loved the music of Heredia, who has the Miltonic quality of so mingling sonorous proper names in his sonnets that they make the chords to the lighter treble of the more melodious phrases of his music. This is evident in ‘Epiphany,’ where the names of the Magi are used both in the first line of the quatrain and the last of the sextet.

  “C’est ainsi qu’autrefois, sous Augustus Cæsar,
Sont venus, presentant l’or, l’encens et la myrrhe,
Les Rois Mages Gaspar, Melchior et Balthazar.”
  
(In other days under Augustus Cæsar
Came, presenting gold, incense, and myrrh,
The magi Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar.)

His management of the climax—which must, in the French form, have an element of surprise, yet not be abrupt—is admirable. The sonnet to Rossi is a good example of this. Here, having dwelt in the quatrains on the physical aspect of Rossi as Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth, he turns in the sextet to the spiritual effect of the actor’s recitation of parts of the ‘Inferno,’ and cries out that, trembling to the depth of his soul, he has seen
  “Alighieri, living, chant of hell.”
  4
  Heredia varies the sextet by rhyming the first two lines, the third and the fifth and the fourth and the sixth; and sometimes the third with the sixth, couplets intervening. In the translation of the sonnet ‘On an Antique Medal,’ the Petrarcan sextet has been used. In the ‘Setting Sun’ one of Heredia’s forms has been followed. The other sonnets, too, are of the mold of the originals.  5
  Heredia died October, 1905, at the Château of Bourdonné in the department of Seine-et-Oise, near Houdan, while visiting his friend M. Ytasse with whom he was spending his vacation.  6
 
 
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