Landmarks in French Literature eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 149 pages of information about Landmarks in French Literature.
all his music of laughter or of passion, it is easy to hear one dominating note.  It is the thought of mortality.  The whining, leering, brooding creature can never for a moment forget that awful Shadow.  He sees it in all its aspects—­as a subject for mockery, for penitence, for resignation, for despair.  He sees it as the melancholy, inevitable end of all that is beautiful, all that is lovely on earth.

    Dictes moi ou, n’en quel pays
    Est Flora, la belle Rommaine;
    Archipiada, ne Thais—­

and so through the rest of the splendid catalogue with its sad, unanswerable refrain—­

    Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?

Even more persistently, the vision rises before him of the physical terrors of death—­the hideousness of its approaches, the loathsomeness of its corruptions; in vain he smiles, in vain he weeps; the grim imagination will not leave him.  In the midst of his wildest debauches, he suddenly remembers the horrible features of decaying age; he repents; but there, close before him, he sees the fatal gibbet, and his own body swinging among the crows.

With Villon the medieval literature of France comes at once to a climax and a termination.  His potent and melancholy voice vibrates with the accumulated passion and striving and pain of those far-off generations, and sinks mysteriously into silence with the birth of a new and happier world.

CHAPTER II

THE RENAISSANCE

There is something dark and wintry about the atmosphere of the later Middle Ages.  The poems of Villon produce the impression of some bleak, desolate landscape of snow-covered roofs and frozen streets, shut in by mists, and with a menacing shiver in the air.  It is—­

              sur la morte saison,
    Que les loups se vivent de vent,
    Et qu’on se tient en sa maison,
    Pour le frimas, pres du tison.

Then all at once the grey gloom lifts, and we are among the colours, the sunshine, and the bursting vitality of spring.

The great intellectual and spiritual change which came over western Europe at the beginning of the sixteenth century was the result of a number of converging causes, of which the most important were the diffusion of classical literature consequent upon the break-up of the Byzantine Empire at the hands of the Turks, the brilliant civilization of the Italian city-states, and the establishment, in France, Spain and England, of powerful monarchies whose existence ensured the maintenance of order and internal peace.  Thus it happened that the splendid literature of the Ancient World—­so rich in beauty and so significant in thought—­came into hands worthy of receiving it.  Scholars, artists and thinkers seized upon the wondrous heritage and found in it a whole unimagined universe of instruction and delight.  At the same time the physical discoveries of explorers and men

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Landmarks in French Literature from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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