1902 Encyclopedia > France > 16th Century French Savants

(Part 47)


16th Century Savants

One more divisions, and only one, that of scientific and learned writers pure and simple, remains. Much of the work of this kind during the period was naturally done in Latin, the vulgar tongue of the learned. But in France, as in other countries, the study of the classic led to a vast number of translations, and it so happened that one of the translators deserves as a prose writer a rank among the highest. Many of the authors already mentioned contributed to the literature of translation. Des Periers translated the Platonic dialogue Lysis, La Boétie some works of Xenophon and Plutarch, Du Vair the de Corona, the In Ctesiphontem, and the Pro Milone. Salel attempted the Iliad, Belleau the false Anacreon, Baif some plays of Plautus and Terence. Besides these Lefevre gave a version of the Bible, Saliat one of Herodotus, and Louis Leroi, not to be confounded with the part author of the Menippée, many works of Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek writers. But while most if not all of these translators owed the merits of their work to their originals, and deserves, much more deserve, to be read only by those to whom those originals are sealed, Jacques Amyot (1513-1591), bishop of Auxerre, takes rank as a French classic by his translations of Plutarch, Longus, and Heliodorus. The admiration which Amyot excited in his own time as immense. Montaigne declares that it was thanks to him that his contemporaries knew how to speak and to write, and the Academy in the next age, thought not too much inclined to honour its predecessors, ranked him as a model. His Plutarch which had an enormous influence at the time, and coloured perhaps more than any classic the thoughts and writings of the 16th century, both in French and English, was then considered his masterpiece. Now-a-days perhaps, and from the purely literary standpoint, that position would be assigned to his exquisite version of the exquisite version of the exquisite story of Daphnis and Chloe. It is needless to say that absolute fidelity and exact scholarship are not the pre-eminent merits of these versions. They are not philological exercises, but works of art. We have already had occasions to mentions Jean le Maire des Belges. His Illustrations des Gaules is an antiquarian rather than an historical work, which assembles or invents a mass of fables about the origin of Franks and Gauls and a group of antiquarian writers of the history of different provinces followed his lead. On the other hand, Claude Fauchet, in two antiquarian works, Antiquités Gauloises et Françoises and L’Origine de la Langue et de la Poésie Française, displays a remarkable critical faculty in sweeping away these fables. Fauchet had the (for his time) wonderful habit of consulting manuscripts, and we owe to him literary notices of many of the trouvères. At the same time La Croix du Maine and Duverdier founde the study of bibliography in France. Pasquier’s Recherches, already alluded to, carries out the principles of Fauchet independently, and besides treating the history of the past in a true critical spirit, supplies us with voluminous and invaluable information on contemporary politics and literature. He has, moreover, the merit which Fauchet had not, of being an excellent writer. Henri Étienne also derserves notice in this place, both for certain treatises on the French language, full of critical crotchets, and also for his curious Apologie pour Hérodote, a remarkable book not particularly easy to class. It consists partly of a defence of its nominal subject, partly of satirical polemis on the Protestant side., and is filled equally with erudition and with the buffoonery and fatrasie of the time. The book, indeed, was much too Rabelaisian to suit the tastes of those in whose defence it was composed.

The 16th century is somewhat too early for us to speak of science, and such science as was then composed falls for the most part outside French literature. The famous potter, Palissy (1510-1589), however, was not much less skilful as a fashioner of words than as a fashioner of pots and his description of the difficulties of his experiments in enamelling, which lasted sixteen years, is well known. The great surgeon Ambrose Paré (1510-1590) was also a writer, and his description of his military experiences at Turin, Metz, and elsewhere have all the charm of the 16th century memoir. The only other writer who requires special mentions is Olivier de Serres (1539-1619), an author who treated on agriculture, and composed, under the title of Théatre d’ Agriculture, a complete treatise on the various operations of rural economy, which became extremely popular, and was frequently reprinted up to the present century.

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