Old and New Masters eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 226 pages of information about Old and New Masters.

It was the romantic; revival of the nineteenth century that placed Ronsard on a throne again.  Even to-day, however, there are pessimistic Frenchmen who doubt whether their country has ever produced a great poet.  Mr. Bennet has told us of one who, on being asked who was the greatest of French poets, replied:  “Victor Hugo, helas!” And in the days when Hugo was still but a youth the doubt must have been still more painful.  So keenly was the want of a national poet felt that, if one could not have been discovered, the French would have had to invent him.  It was necessary for the enthusiastic young romanticists to possess a great indigenous figure to stand beside those imported idols —­Shakespeare, Byron, Goethe, and Dante.  Sainte-Beuve, who brought out a Ronsard anthology with a critical essay in 1828, showed them where to look.  After that, it was as though French literature had begun with Ronsard.  He was the “ideal ancestor.”  He was, as it were, a re-discovered fatherland.  But his praise since then has been no mere task of patriotism.  It has been a deep enthusiasm for literature.  “You cannot imagine,” wrote Flaubert, in 1852, “what a poet Ronsard is.  What a poet!  What a poet!  What wings!...  This morning, at half-past twelve, I read a poem aloud which almost upset my nerves, it gave me so much pleasure.”  That may be taken as the characteristic French view of Ronsard.  It may be an exaggerated view.  It may be fading to some extent before modern influences.  But it is unlikely that Ronsard’s reputation in his own country will ever again be other than that of a great poet.

At the same time, it is not easy, on literary grounds, to acquiesce in all the praises that have been heaped upon him.  One would imagine from Flaubert’s exclamations that Ronsard had a range like Shelley’s, whereas, in fact, he was more comparable with the English cavalier poets.  He had the cavalier poet’s gift of making love seem a profession rather than a passion.  He was always very much a gentleman, both in his moods and his philosophy.  A great deal of his best poetry is merely a variation on carpe diem. On the other hand, though he never went very deep or very high, he did express real sentiments and emotions in poetry.  Few poets have sung the regret for youth more sincerely and more beautifully, and, with Ronsard, regret for the lost wonder of his own youth was perhaps the acutest emotion he ever knew.  He was himself, in his early years, one of those glorious youths who have the genius of charm and comeliness, of grace and strength and the arts.  He excelled at football as in lute-playing.  He danced, fenced, and rode better than the best; and, with his noble countenance, his strong limbs, his fair beard, and his “eyes full of gentle gravity,” he must have been the picture of the perfect courtier and soldier.  Above all, we are told, his conversation was delightful.  He had “the gift of pleasing.”  When he went to Scotland in 1537 with Madeleine, the

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Old and New Masters from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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