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PREFACE.

IN

this volume will be found a larger collection of the poetry of France than has been accessible among us hitherto in a single publication. The greater part of its contents are of comparatively recent date. With the exception of a few short pieces of Ronsard and Desportes, selected partly from their interest as curiosities, I have excluded poems written before the French language had settled into its present form. French poetry written before the year 1500 reads to Frenchmen nearly as Chaucer does to us, and their language appears afterwards to have changed about as rapidly as ours, and very much in the same way, as well as from similar causes. In reading Spenser,

who came of age in 1574, we require a glossary about as often as French readers need one in reading Ronsard and Desportes, who were Spenser's contemporaries; and we observe, also, that at the very time when Shakespeare was fixing our language as it must substantially remain for several centuries, Malherbe, the "father of French versification," was writing his native tongue very much as French poets have written it ever since. Since Malherbe there has indeed been development; but, as every masterpiece retards as well as assists development, the process has been slow.

It is interesting to discover in the French people the intense and apparently irrational conservatism with regard to their language that we observe among ourselves. The prestige of Voltaire's name, and the adroit badinage occasionally employed by him in prefaces and correspondence for fifty-six years, were re

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quired to induce his countrymen generally to write ai in the imperfect indicative, instead of oi, and to distinguish, as he used to say, les Français from saint François. Counting from the original suggestion of the change, twenty years before Voltaire was born, we may say it required a century to establish this one rectification. Such a fact might have saved our too sanguine Noah Webster, if he had been aware of it, from attempting to make so many changes as he did in the compass of one lifetime. But it is thus that classic works fix the language in which they are written. Some men are so bewitched by them that they come at last to dote even upon their tortuous orthography, and to resent the most obviously rational changes almost as a personal affront.

The French, therefore, of this volume, is almost the French of to-day, and presents no extraordinary difficulties. But the French which poets use is not the French which we "pick up" as we go along through life. Poets place all their language under contribution. They employ its whole vocabulary, enrich that vocabulary, and invent new devices of construction. One happy effect of reading the excellent poetry of France is the dispelling of an illusion, which we are apt to bring away with us from school and cherish with misgivings through life, that we are tolerably versed in the French language. The reader holds in his hands a rich and delightful volume, it could not but be that, and I can sincerely congratulate any intelligent person upon possessing it, but it is not a book to be lightly or easily read. Goethe tells us that we ought to make a point not to let a day pass without reading a little poetry. He well says a little poetry; for what Schiller remarks of writing poetry applies also to the reading of it: "I can write history with half my mind, but poetry requires it all." The difficulties presented by the foreign language may be an assistance to many to read their daily poem with closer attention, with more complete mastery, and more lasting enjoyment.

At the end of the work will be found a list of the poets repre

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sented, with a sentence or two upon each, designed merely to afford an intimation of some fact or facts in their lives necessary to be known for the understanding of their works. To have given anything like an adequate notice, however brief, of so large a number of writers, would have required an amount of space that could not be spared. I have endeavored also to ascertain the date of each poem; if not the very year of its production, at least the year of its publication. It has been for three centuries a custom with French poets to date their works, - a practice which is much to be commended, both for prose and verse; for the mere date, as M. Victor Hugo remarks, often | serves as sufficient comment or needful apology. The dating of poems is a thing of necessity in the case of several authors of recent generations, who have lived long, and grown with their growing time. One French poet still living entitles his memoirs, › “Under Ten Kings." There are men now alive in France who have lived under as many as thirteen kinds of government, and t have undergone many changes of political feeling, each of which finds expression in their works. Victor Hugo touches this delicate topic with his own incomparable tact and candor in a preface to his Odes et Ballades, written from his hónorable retreat in the island of Jersey during the recent twenty years' eclipse of his native land. And what he says of himself applies to other men less conspicuous and less gifted than himself. Southey said very neatly in a preface to his early drama of Wat Tyler: "I am no more ashamed of having been a democrat than I am ashamed of having been a boy."

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The illustrious Hugo tells us, not less happily, that he is no more ashamed of having been a royalist than he is ashamed of having been born; for he was born a royalist.

"History," he says, in the preface just named, dated Jersey, July, 1853,—" history is ecstatic over Michael Ney, who, born a cooper, became a marshal of France, and over Murat, who, born a stable boy, became a king. The obscurity of their point of departure is counted to them as one title more to esteem, and heightens the splendor of their point of arrival.

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Of all the ladders which go from the shade to the light, the e most meritorious and the most difficult to climb, surely, is this c To be born an aristocrat and royalist, and to become a democrat.e

"To mount from a shop to a palace is, if you please, rare and re beautiful; to mount from error to truth is more rare and morene beautiful. In the first of these two ascents, at every step whichne we take we gain something, and augment our means of welfare, to our power, and our estate; in the other ascent it is quite the e contrary. In that harsh struggle against prejudices imbibed with y our mother's milk, in that slow and rugged elevation from the y false to the true, which makes in some sort the life of one mand and the development of one conscience the abridged symbol of al human progress, at every step which we clear, we have to pay for our moral increase by a material sacrifice; we have to aban-h don some interest, to conquer some vanity, to renounce worldly e wealth and honors, to risk fortune, to risk home, to risk life." Also, that duty being done, it is permitted us to be proud of it. er And if it is true that Murat could show with some pride his at postilion's whip by the side of his kingly sceptre, and say, 'Iy started from that,' it is with a pride more legitimate, certainly, g and with a conscience more satisfied, that one can show his m royalist odes, written in childhood and youth, by the side of re democratic poems and books of the mature man. This pride isin permitted, I think; especially when, the ascent being accom-be plished, one finds at the top of the ladder the light of proscription, and can date this preface from exile."

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This noble and happy utterance may serve for all French et le authors who have lived "under ten kings," and whose lives have, been pure enough to admit of their natural growth with the age so in which they have lived. And M. Hugo's words particularly d apply to the poems in the division entitled "Historical and he Patriotic," where the reader will find the verdict of the poets of ir France upon the history of France, from the time when the court V poet was little better than another court fool, getting pensions for versified adulation of princes, to the present day, when it is

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great poet who has avenged his country and avenged man, by contriving for the usurper and his race a penalty more dreadful han the block. And what is the office of a national literature, f not to record, to exhibit, to illumine the life of the nation, naking the past admonish and inspire the present?

It is known to every reader that the French idea of what is proper to be printed differs from ours; or rather we differ as to the place where physical subjects are most suitably treated. We prefer to confine such matters to the medical magazine; and the French amuse themselves very much at what they consider our squeamishness. It would not become us, tyros in every art, to sit in judgment upon the taste of a nation which cheered mankind in every zone with excellent works of many kinds long before our national life began. Nevertheless, we may claim the right to think that our sense of the becoming is the best for us; and, consequently, I have excluded from this collection all pieces of the kind which thoughtful American parents do not intend their children shall read. Nor does this rule require the omission of many excellent things, for we find that the best French authors are approaching us in this particular. There is scarcely a line in Lamartine or Victor Hugo which could not be literally translated into English without offence. Indeed, the literature of a certain kind, which appeared in great quantity during the late usurpation, was not at all the expression of a genuine and strenuous masculinity. It was rather an indicaion of the want of it.

The reader will be interested in observing how much the poets of France have been influenced by those of England and America. English poetry appears to be better known in France than French poetry is among us. It is not merely that Byron had his school of followers and imitators; but we find all the English and American poets familiar to the poets of France, even Lamb, Wordsworth, Grey, and others, who, we should naturally think, vere remote from French ways of feeling and thinking. The Influence of Pope upon Voltaire would be obvious from his

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