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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Clément Marot (1496–1544)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THE QUALITY that gives a peculiar charm to the verses of Marot is the blending of gayety and gravity. With light touches he expresses serious feeling, and the sincerity of his sentiment suffers no wrong from the fantastic dress of the period. His Muse wears a particolored robe; not that of Folly, but a garment of rich and noble patches, in which velvets and brocades oddly harmonize with the homespun they strengthen and adorn. It is because they are the velvets and brocades of the Renaissance, any scrap or shred of which had a decorative value. And still another material is to be observed: the strong linen of the Reformation, whose whiteness endues with the more picturesqueness the brilliant colors.  1
  The poetic life of Clément Marot opened on the plane of pedantry, and closed on that of preaching; but between these two conditions—each of them the consequence of the influences of the time—his own individuality asserted itself in countless humorous, delicate, charming, exquisite “epistles” and “elegies,” “epitaphs” and “étrennes” and “ballades,” “dizains,” “rondeaux,” and “chansons,” and in “epigrammes,”—some of them coarse and cynical, and some to be counted among his best and most original work. He wrote also “eclogues”; and one on the death of the queen mother, Luise of Savoie, is considered a masterpiece. Two other kinds of composition in which he also excelled had in the sixteenth century a great vogue: the “blazon” and the “coq à l’âne.” The “blazons” were eulogistic or satirical descriptions of different parts of an object; they were devoted by the gallantry of the day to the description of a woman’s eyebrow or eyes, or hand, or more intimate parts of the body. The two “blazons” of Marot (‘Du Beau Tetin’ and ‘Du Layd Tetin’) inspired a whole series of productions of the same kind from contemporary versifiers. The pieces called “coq à l’âne” were, before Marot, a jeu d’esprit of incoherent verses. Marot gave them a new character by making able use of this apparent incoherency to veil satirical attacks on formidable enemies.  2
  It has been prettily said that he was as the bee among poets,—delicately winged, honey-making, and with a sting for self-defense.  3
  Born in 1497, the son of a secretary of Queen Anne of Brittany, in 1515 the youthful poet presented to the youthful King (Francis the First) a poetical composition, the longest he ever wrote, entitled ‘Le Temple de Cupido.’ In 1519 he—“Le Despourveu,” as he styled himself—was attached to the court of Marguerite (the sister of Francis), then the Duchesse d’Alençon. Five years later he became one of her pensioners, and through all his after life he was cared for and protected by her. In 1528 he was made one of the King’s household, and at this moment his powers attained their highest point. The court, as he himself says, was his true “schoolmistress.” In 1532 appeared the first collection of his verses.  4
  But for some years previously his half-heretical opinions had drawn trouble upon him, protest as he might
              “Point ne suis Lutheriste,
Ne Zuinglien, et moins Anabaptiste;
Je suis de Dieu par son fils Jesuchrist.”
In 1526 he suffered imprisonment for a few weeks, and this imprisonment was the occasion of a long poem entitled ‘Hell,’—a satire on the tribunal and prison of the Châtelet. This “si gentil œuvre” was first printed at Antwerp, and was reprinted some years later by Estienne Dolet, “in the most beautiful form,” he says, “and with the most ornament possible to me,… because in reading it I have found it free from anything scandalous respecting God and religion, and not containing anything against the majesty of princes.” It was of such crimes that Marot had been accused.
  5
  In 1531 he was again brought before the Parliament, and once more he was summoned in 1535. The matter now looked so serious that he thought it best to fly to Ferrara, to the court of Renée of France, where he found himself in company with Calvin. The personal unhappiness of the Princess Renée made a profound impression on Marot. He saw this ardent protectress of the Protestants to be sadly in need herself of protection; and more than once, at this time and later, he addressed to her, and to others regarding her, strains of heartfelt compassion. Her ducal husband Ercole d’Este—the enemy of her friends—swept out of the city as with a besom all her protégés as often as he could; and Marot was soon obliged to make his way to Venice. Within the year, however, he received permission to return to France, and was once more high in the King’s favor.  6
  But the immense, widespread success of a translation of some of the Psalms he now made again roused the Sorbonne; and he was forced to take refuge at Turin, where he died in 1544. Two years later his friend Estienne Dolet was burned at the stake.  7
  Such was the outward career of this vivid, eager poet. He was perhaps, in his relations to the world, audacious rather than bold; in his relations to the other world, a lover of novelty rather than of truth; as a man, somewhat vain and boastful, somewhat licentious in a licentious age,—but he wrote verses that disarm criticism. In reading the best of them, one is persuaded for the moment that nothing is so enchanting as spontaneity, gayety, grace, quickness, keenness, unimpassioned sentiment and natural courtesy, and the philosophy that jests at personal misfortunes, flowing from a heart of tenderness. Admiration of another kind also is excited in remembering that this poet, whose epistles to “the great”—to the King and his sister—are almost in the tone of equal addressing equal, was after all, nominally their servant, actually their dependent. A foolish legend has prevailed that the relations between Marot and the Queen of Navarre were of extreme intimacy. There is absolutely nothing to justify such a belief. The attachment between them—respectful on both sides—was only one of the illustrations of the relations brought about by the Renaissance between crowned heads and men of letters.  8
  The long Epistles of Marot are his most interesting productions. He was the creator of the “épître-badine,” and he has never been surpassed in this kind of writing. The Epistle to Lyon Jamet, containing the fable of the rat and the lion, is the most famous; but its length and the exquisite quality of its style forbid any attempt at its reproduction here. In his Epistles, as elsewhere in his work, the best and most characteristic and the gayest verses of Marot are of extreme difficulty to translate. Their form is their very substance: change even the mere sound of a word, and its meaning is gone. He, like La Fontaine,—there are many similarities between the two,—can be known only by those who can read him in the original. The following translations can scarcely do more than show the subjects of the verses selected, and the general tone.  9
  Marot exercised no durable influence, though his style was so marked that it became a generic designation—“le style Marotique.” But “le style Marotique” means different things according to the person using the phrase. Marmontel defines it as “a medley of phrases vulgar and noble, old-fashioned and modern.” La Harpe said “a ‘style Marotique’ is one that has the gay, agreeable, simple, natural manner peculiar to Marot.” La Harpe’s definition is the truer, that of Marmontel the one most generally accepted.  10
 
 
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