It is customary and forgivable to call by this term, so rich in overtones, the period between the accession of Francis 1(1515) and the assassination of Henry IV (1610). Essentially this colorful flowering of French poetry and prose, manners and arts and dress was less a rebirth than a ripening. By the patient resilience of men and the new growth of the new-seeded earth, the French economy and spirit had recovered from the Hundred Years’ War. Louis XI had given France a strong, centered, orderly government; Louis XII had given it a fruitful decade of peace. The free, loose, fantastic creativeness of the Gothic age survived, even and most in Rabelais, who so admired the classics that he quoted nearly all of them. But the great awakening was also a renascence. French literature and art were unquestionably affected by a closer acquaintance with ancient culture and classic forms. Those forms and the classic temper—the predominance of intellectual order over emotional ardor—continued in French drama, poetry, painting, sculpture, and architecture for almost three centuries. The fertilizing agents in the new birth were the French discovery and invasion of Italy, the French study of Roman rums, jurisprudence, and literature, of Italian letters and arts, and the influx of Italian artists and poets into France. To the happy issue many other factors contributed: printing; the dissemination and translation of classic texts; the patronage of scholars, poets, and artists by French kings, by their mistresses, by Marguerite of Navarre, by ecclesiastics and aristocrats; and the inspiration of women capable of appreciating other beauties than their own. All these elements came together in the flourishing of France.
Francis I, who inherited all this, had as á page the poet who served as a transition from Gothic to classic, from Villon to Renaissance. Clément Marot entered history as a frolicsome lad of thirteen who amused the King with jolly tales and sprightly repartees. Some years later Francis smiled upon the youth’s adventures and quarrels with “all the ladies of Paris,” for he agreed with Marot that they were very charming indeed:
La Françoise est entière et sans rompeure;
Plaisir la meine, au profit ne regarde.
Conclusion: qui en parle ou brocarde,
Françoises sont chef-d’oeuvre de nature—
“The Frenchwoman is flawless and complete; pleasure leads her; she does not look for profit. To conclude: whatever anyone may say to ridicule them, Frenchwomen are nature’s masterpiece.”22
Marot babbled poems like a bubbling spring. They were seldom profound, but often touched with tender sentiment; they were verses of occasion, conversation pieces, ballads, roundels, madrigals, or satires and epistles reminiscent of Horace or Martial. He noted with some pique that women (himself to the contrary notwithstanding) could be more readily persuaded by diamonds than by dithyrambs:
Quant les petites vilotières
Trouvent quelque hardi amant
Qui faire luire un diamant
Devant leurs yeux riants et verts,
Coac! elles tombent à l’envers.
Tu ris? Maudit soit-il qui erre!
C’est la grande vertu de la pierre
Qui éblouit ainsi leurs yeux.
Tels dons, tels présents servent mieux
Que beauté, savoir, ni prières.
Ils endorment les chambrières,
Ils ouvrent les portes fermées
Comme s’elles étaient charmées;
Ils font aveugles ceux qui voient,
Et taire les chiens qui aboient.
Ne me crois-tu point?
That is to say:
When little trollops make their price,
And find some moneyed lover bold
Who can a sparking diamond hold
Before their olive laughing eyes,
Coac! They fall quite inside out.
You laugh? Damn him who here goes wrong!
For to that stone virtues belong
That would seduce eyes most devout.
Such gifts and boons do more avail
Than beauty, prayers, or wisdom staid;
They send to sleep the lady’s maid,
And dogs forget to bark or wail.
Closed doors fly open to your will,
As if bewitched by magic mind,
And eyes that saw become quite blind.
Now tell me, do you doubt me still?
In 1519 Marot became valet-de-chambre to Marguerite, and fell in love with her dutifully; gossip said she returned his moans, but more likely she gave him nothing but religion. He developed a moderate sympathy with the Protestant cause in the intervals of hisamours. He followed Francis to Italy, fought like a Bayard at Pavia, had the honor to be captured with his King, and—no ransom being expected for a poet—was released. Back in France, he announced his Protestant ideas so openly that the bishop of Chartres summoned him, and kept him under genteel imprisonment in the episcopal palace. He was set free by Marguerite’s intercession, but was soon arrested for helping prisoners to escape from the police. Francis bailed him out, and took him to Bayonne to sing the charms of his new bride, Eleanor of Portugal. After another session in jail—for eating bacon in Lent—he followed Marguerite to Cahors and Nérac.
Presently the affair of the placards revived the campaign against the French Protestants. News reached Marot that his rooms in Paris had been searched, and that a warrant had gone out for his arrest (1535). Fearful that even Marguerite’s skirts would not suffice to hide him, he fled to Italy, to the Duchess Renée in Ferrara. She welcomed him as if a reborn Virgil had arrived from Mantua; and perhaps she knew that he liked to link his name with that of Publius Vergilius Maro. He resembled more the lighthearted, amorous Ovid, or his favorite Villon, whose poems he edited and whose life he relived. When Duke Ercole II let it be known that he was surfeited with Protestants, Clément moved on to Venice. Word reached him that Francis had offered pardon to abjuring heretics; Marot, thinking the ladies of Paris worth a Mass, abjured. The King gave him a house and garden, and Clément tried to be a bourgeois gentilhomme.
François Vatable, who was teaching Hebrew in the Collège Royale, asked him to translate the Psalms into French verse, and expounded them to him word for word. Marot put thirty of them into melodious poetry, and published them with a judicious dedication to the King. Francis liked them so much that he gave a special copy to Charles V, who was momentarily his friend; Charles sent the poet 200 crowns ($5,000?). Marot translated more of the Psalms, and issued them in 1543 with a dedication to his first love, “the ladies of France.” Goudimel put them to music, as we have seen, and half of France began to sing them. But as Luther and Calvin also liked them, the Sorbonne suspected them of Protestantism; or perhaps in the ordeal of success Marot had remumbled his heresies. The campaign against him was renewed. He fled to Geneva, but found the theological climate there too severe for his health. He slipped into Italy, and died in Turin (1544) at the age of forty-nine, leaving an illegitimate daughter to the care of the Queen of Navarre.