While the “Pléiade”1 still haunts school textbooks to refer to a group of seven mid sixteenth-century poets, it has long been understood as nothing more than a myth (Balmas 1965; Lebègue 1966): this creation of Ronsard, although elusive,2 captured the imagination of a handful of his contemporaries and was, above all, a convenient label for literary historians during the centuries that followed. In recent sixteenth century studies, Emmanuel Buron condemned the use of the word at the beginning of the 2000s.3 It remains, nevertheless, in use out of convenience – put at arm’s length and surrounded by precautions – to refer not to a historical group but to an aesthetic movement.
Figure 1. Photo-montage by Florence Bonifay, using sixteenth-century engraved portraits of Renaissance authors
Almost eighty years after Henri Chamard’s monumental work Histoire de la Pléiade (Chamard 1939-1940), I wanted to revisit the history of the “Pléiade” from the angle of sociability as represented by poets. Scanning 312 poetry collections published between 1549 and 1586 allowed me to identify and enter 2,200 texts in which poets name each other and reveal their relationship to one another. I then felt it necessary to create a database in order to establish links between the texts and facilitate exploration of the twists and turns of this extremely rich network (who cites or mentions who? When? In which collection? On what date?), while at the same time allowing access to the content of the texts. This is how the “RéseauxPoètesXVI” database came into being and constituted a central tool for my PhD research (see Bonifay 2016).
After presenting the composition and organization of the database, we will focus on two points. On the one hand, we will demonstrate some of the possible ways in which it can support the study of representations of poetic sociability in the second half of the sixteenth century, in order to better situate the sub-category which literary history has labelled the “Pléiade.” We will emphasize, on the other hand, how our full data highlights the intense reflexive activity of the poets on the specific social group they made up.
The historical period we are interested in began in 1549, the year of publication of Joachim Du Bellay’s Deffence, et illustration de la langue françoyse. Considered as the manifesto of the “Pléiade,” the pamphlet “attempts to define a form of poetry that is as yet unknown… and, beyond this, to establish a new class of poets” who were patriotic since they wrote in French, heroic, philosophers, and accessories to centralizing royal power, as Jean-Charles Monferran explains in the 2007 edition of the Deffence4. This text, which intended to disrupt the history of poetry, was something new, as Jean Vignes states: “Indeed, up until that point, the evolution of poetic taste had occurred without significant rupture, each new generation affirming its respect for the masters of the previous generations” (2007: 103). The comparative analysis carried out by Francis Goyet on Sébillet’s “marotic”5 Art poetique François (1548) and Du Bellay's Deffence (1549) concurs: Sébillet presents a “means of gradual ascent to the poetic heights” (Goyet 2003: 114) while Du Bellay is a novice who “takes on… the role, the persona of an established poet” (Goyet 2003: 124) and refuses gradual learning, placing himself directly at the summit.
Ronsard’s Tombeau6 (1586) with sixty contributors, compiled by his friend Claude Binet a few months after his death, marks the final boundary of our study. The career of Du Bellay’s friend and original rival, leading the same battle as him at the beginning of the 1550s, inventing the image of a “Pléiade” of seven poets, and publishing poetry until his death, thus ensures the coherence of the chosen period. Jean Dorat (who died in 1588), Jean-Antoine de Baïf (who died in 1589) and Pontus de Tyard (who died in 1605) – who formed part of the group of innovators in the 1550s – outlived Ronsard by several years. After the latter’s death, however, they scarcely produced any further poetry (at the end of his life, Tyard was only interested in religion and philosophy) or referenced other poets. Besides, their deaths did not trigger as monumental a tribute as Ronsard’s Tombeau – a collection that not only reflects the renown of the poet, but also provides retrospective perspectives on a whole period of poetry which some feared was now over.
Over this long period, I focused on printed poetry collections, for the obvious reason of convenience but also because print publication was highly valued by Ronsard and his friends. Their declarations should not obscure the fact that print was not the only route to success, as demonstrated by Mellin de Saint-Gelais, Francis I and Henry II’s Grand Chaplain of France, who chose not to publish a printed collection of his works until his death in 1558. Nevertheless, print publication used to reinforce their desire to obtain author’s rights and conquer the public space.7 Indeed, according to Du Bellay (Deffence, Book II, chap. 2) not publishing exposed the poet to plagiarism, and it harmed the public good, according to Olivier de Magny, who is critical of Saint-Gelais for not printing his works,8 and who believes that Etienne Jodelle failed to do his “fair duty” in delaying the publication of his verse.9 Refusal to publish also prevented the work from being passed on to posterity. Compared to the virile and heroic ideal of Du Bellay and of Ronsard, it was cowardice. In his “Notes to the Reader” in his 1550 Odes, Ronsard thus berates the “sciamaches”: indoor combatants who dare not put their work into the public arena. For his part, Du Bellay states that a poet who does not publish cannot attain the highest success, such as Mellin de Saint-Gelais: “pour n’avoir encores rien mis en lumiere soubz son nom, ne merite qu’on luy donne le premier lieu”10 (for not having brought anything to light under his name, does not merit us giving him first place). Since I am interested in the representations of literary sociability as an advertising medium,11 I played along with the game of most of the “Pléiade” poets (except Jodelle, who was very reluctant to publish) by only taking print publications into account. In so doing, I observed how the poets helped each other to conquer the market – with, for example, Ronsard writing in a liminary text to Belleau’s La Bergerie (1576): “lecteur si tu peux entre les Muses vivre / Achepte moy Belleau”12 (reader if you can live among the Muses / Accept me Belleau).
To apprehend representations of relations between poets in the context of the “Pléiade,” we decided to focus our attention on the process of naming. Indeed, to say a name is to recognize the existence of the other, in such a way that naming participates as much of a logic of choice as of a logic of exclusion. The only poem in which Ronsard imagines a Pléiade of seven fine poets attests to this. Printed in 1556, the “Élégie de P. de Ronsard, à Chretophle de Choiseul, Abbé de Mureaux” refers back to the first publications of Ronsard and Du Bellay, which correspond historically to the accession of King Henry II in 154713:
Du regne de HENRY, cinq ou six seulement,
Vindrent, qui d’un acord moderé doucement,
Et d’un pouce atrempé firent doctement bruire
Maintenant la guitterre, et maintenant la lyre,
Et maintenant le luc, et oserent tenter
Quelque peu la trompette affin de haut chanter.
Incontinent apres, une tourbe inconnue
De serfz imitateurs, pesle mesle est venue
Se ruer sans esgard, laquelle a tout gasté
Cela que les premiers avoient si bien chanté.14
(In the reign of HENRY, came only five or six,
Who, with a soft, measured chord
And gentle thumb, carefully struck a sound
First from the guitar, and now the lyre,
And now the lute, and dared to try
A little trumpet so as to sing a fine song.
Immediately after, an unknown crowd
Of imitating serfs, came pell-mell>
Rushing, paying no heed, they destroyed all
That which the first had sung so well.15)
According to the Ronsardian vision of literary history, after this first “moisson d’enfans, / Gentilz, doctes, bien-nez” (yield of children, / Noble, learned, well born) (v. 36-37), the production of “mother France” dried up. And,
Meintenant à son tour, fertile, elle commence
A s’enfler tout le sein d’une belle semence,
Et ne veut plus soufrir que son limon oyseux
De chardons se herisse, et de buissons ronceux
Te concevant, Belleau, qui viens en la brigade
Des bons, pour accomplir la setieme Pliade.
Qui as (comme bien-né) ton naturel suivy,
Et que les Muses ont naïvement ravy
Aux contemplations de leurs sciences belles.16
(Now in turn fertile, her whole breast
Begins to swell with a beautiful seed,
And wishes to suffer no more as her idle silt
Hurt herself on thistles, and knotted bushes
Perceiving you, Belleau, who joins the brigade
Of the mighty, to complete the seventh Pliade.
Who has [of those well born] your natural flow
And which the Muses naively delighted
At the thought of their beautiful science.)
These lines deliver a vision of literary history which advances in alternating cycles of abundance and drought; it is based on oppositions of values: scarcity (“cinq ou six seulement” then the “setieme”) and mass (“tourbe … pesle mesle […] venue / Se ruer”); high (“haut chanter”) and low (those who “rue[nt]”, rush, in the “limon oyseux”, dregs of society); knowledge (“doctes,” “doctement”) and stupidity and tactlessness (“sans esgard… a tout gasté”); bravery (“oserent tenter”) and pale imitation (“serfz imitateurs”); and nobility of blood (“bien-nez”, “bien né”) and the dregs of society (“serfz”, “limon oyseux”). Written and published by a poet who saw himself as leader,17 as Du Bellay did, these lines reflect an elitist vision of poetry, hinging on tangible elements such as nobility of birth, learned skills, and musical talent, all sublimated by a je ne sais quoi referred to as a gift from the Muses. In this context, naming plays an important role: Remy Belleau, referred to by name, is distinguished from the tourbe inconnue (unknown crowd), and introduced into the small collective of fine (“bons”) poets which form the Pléiade within the group of fine poets who form the Brigade.
To name a fellow poet thus appears as a sign of recognition of his talent and his right to be published and recorded for posterity. Du Bellay highlights this:
Qui eust sceu de Mars les enfans,
Leurs lauriers, leurs chars triumphans,
Si ores l’envieux silence
A leurs noms faisoit violence?18
(Who had known of Mars the children,
Their laurels, their triumphant chariots,
So golden the envious silence
In their names was making violence?)
The rhyme scheme reveals the dread of “silence,” which appears as a “violence” since it has smothered the name into oblivion. We could say, after Pierre Bourdieu, that this violence is “symbolic” since it has a “double dimension that is both immaterial and relational,” as summarized by Pascal Durand in an article titled “Capital symbolique” in the Lexique socius. Conversely, therefore, naming can be seen as a “symbolic good” exchanged by poets that builds reputation – either individual (when a single colleague is named) or collective (when it is a whole list of poets that is lauded).
In fact, the endeavour is both individual and collective. Poets of the 1550 generation, pursuing the “conquest of authorship of all work by a writer” to which Clément Marot had greatly contributed in the 1530s and 1540s (Alduy 2007: 98), would write their name on the frontispiece of their works19 and refer to themselves in their verse to guarantee their personal passage to posterity. Thus, the index of Ronsard’s works by Alvin Emerson Creore indicates ninety-one occurrences of the name Ronsard in his works (Creore 1972: 1196). However, poets also help one another in order to save themselves collectively from oblivion: I am a poet “Pour honorer de renommee / Par le monde en mes vers semee / Mon nom et celuy des amis”20 (To honour with my reputation / Through the world by the verse I sow / My name and that of friends), declares Jean-Antoine de Baïf. Thus, when, towards the middle of the century, individual poets’ collections start to prevail over collections by polygraphs and anthologies (Alduy 2007: 87-116), the collective dimension takes a new form: that of the citation of “friends,” and in particular poet friends.
The exchange of addresses between poets is therefore a sharing of goodwill based on a transfer of credit between peers (symbolic capital). Moreover, each poet is thus seen to be part of a network, accentuating therefore their “social capital,” which is “all the actual or potential resources linked to the possession of a lasting network of relations that are to varying degrees institutionalized by mutual knowledge and mutual recognition, or, in other words, to belonging to a group” (Bourdieu 1982: 2). This exchange involves poets in a pattern of gift exchange, similar to the mechanism exposed by Marcel Mauss in 1923-1924. For Mauss, the gift economy is based on the power of the thing given and received – this power is called “hau,” and pushes the recipient to reciprocate. Very much alive in the sixteenth century, as Natalie Zemon Davis (2000) has shown, this gift economy can be studied in the context of the relationship of poets to their patrons (Skenazi 2003; Berriet 2009). The poet gives a “symbolic good” (a poem or collection) and the patron a symbolic (written support, for example) or material good (an allowance or benefit), since the economic autonomy of literature is far from assured in the Renaissance. But the gift economy can also be observed within the milieu of poets who exchange symbols of credit.
And so this game of cross references is the angle through which we want to examine the history of the “Pléiade.” By recording networks of citations using a database, the endeavour entailed – rather than a history of works and their aesthetic affinities – building a history of relationships displayed between poets to observe between whom symbols of credit or insults are exchanged, which groups are formed, how, against whom, and with which common denominators. I am therefore interested in the “postures” – in the sense of “self-presentation” to the public as proposed by Alain Viala, or as a “way of holding a position” (Molinié & Viala 1993: 216) –, and in the representations of friendly or conflicting relationships between peers, or of the poet in a group.
To build my corpus, I consulted many published collections. The aim of this selective reading was to locate in the works:
• pieces in which the author of the collection names peers (prefaces, “Notes to the Reader,” and poems in the collection which address a peer, construct a certain vision of literary history, draw up lists of fine poets,21 curse a colleague, recount a scene of poetic sociability, etc.);
• allographic pieces written by a peer and incorporated into the collection by its author. Indeed, Cécile Alduy stresses that, for poets in the second half of the sixteenth century, books serve as “a socialized space intended to accommodate other poets, even other languages, and reflects the historical distance that separates it from our conception of the inseparable unity of book–works–writers” (2007: 260). Jean Vignes believes these texts offer “precious clues for rebuilding networks of influence and friendship that form the basis of human life” (2004: 183), and proposes a typology. He makes a distinction between, on the one hand, liminary/postliminary allographs which are endorsements from peers and make, according to Daniel Maira, the peritext into a “space of collective approval” (2007: 267), dating from the 1530s (Laufer 1989 : 583). “Social and literary patronage” phenomena (Alduy 2007: 344) can be observed here, when a respected writer provides a eulogistic liminary text to someone starting out in their career, or agrees to having a poem by an unknown poet sings their praises at the start of the book. Jean Vignes then distinguishes parenthetic allographs, on the other hand: “a text by A inserted into a volume, among the work of the main writer” (2004: 181). This is a way of presenting debates by means of addresses, responses, and counter-responses in the form of dizains, sonnets or, most often, epistles.
To map references, I began by reading collections by poets of the so-called “Pléiade.” For the most part, their complete works are available in modern editions and some have been digitized (on archive.org or in the Garnier digital collections of classics, for example). Some of these poets, as we have seen, had long careers that lasted until the 1580s. I extended my reading beyond the names of poets they cite or those who signed texts that were incorporated into their collections. Moving from one to another, I thus scrutinized 312 collections spanning the period 1549-1586; I was then able to observe interactions between poets from two generations: those who made their début in the 1550s (or “the 1550 generation” hereafter) – of whom some published until the 1580s; and those who made their début in the 1570s (or “the 1570 generation” hereafter):
• 1549-1569 (20 years): 184 collections consulted;
• 1570-1586 (16 years): 128 collections consulted.
Many of the poets’ collections that are less well-known today have no modern edition and were consulted in their original sixteenth-century edition thanks to digital libraries (Gallica and the Bibliothèques Virtuelles Humanistes, in particular) or the Google Books online service. However, these resources rarely spared me the work of inputting the texts. In this way, my reading gradually resulted in hundreds of word-processed pieces. The “book wheel” was invented in the Renaissance, a tool which allowed several books to be read at once. Works were placed on shelves which could be accessed by turning the wheel to compare the selected passages. I needed a modern “bookwheel” to link the collected texts to one another. According to this double objective, which was to come up with evidence of a network but also to analyse postures, I chose to create a database to provide both relational data (in this text, published in this collection, on this date, this poet addresses/mentions this [these] poet[s]) and give access to texts to enable qualitative analysis.
While the decision to enter the full texts led to a very considerable volume of work,22 it proved judicious inasmuch as previously unforeseen needs emerged as my reflection progressed. Full-text searches, which allowed complete data entry for works in the corpus, could thus supplement the tables missing from the design of the overall database.
The database, which uses PHP, was built pro bono by programmer friends using the MySQL relational database management system. It is hosted on the server of the University of Lyon 2. The data are organized as follows:
Given the limited framework of this article, I will not detail how significant the recording of certain book data (place of publishing, identity of printer-bookseller) was in accounting for the role of these book professionals in the construction of the networks of poets. I will limit my analysis to the study of the networks of citations between poets.
Little by little, I incorporated 2,200 texts into the “RéseauxPoètesXVI” database. These came from the 312 collections that I scrutinized by sixty different poets. However, when taking addresses to peers and allographic pieces into account, 280 names of men and women were integrated into the network which was rendered by the database.
The user interface, accessible to all, proposes several inquiries:
• Text searches: by name of poet; text title; collection title; date; publication; language (French, Latin, Greek, Italian, Spanish); publisher; or by full text search.
• Searches by relationships between poets, with results given as a list of texts: for example, it is possible to request all the texts by this poet citing this/these other poet(s) either throughout his/her career, or on a specific date, or during a specified historical period; or it is possible to request the list of all the poets this author addresses either throughout his/her career, or on a specific date, or during a specified historical period, etc. The results are displayed in the form of a list of texts which can be consulted.
• Searches by relationships between poets, with results given as numbers: for example, it is possible to search for all the authors who cite this poet. Then, results are displayed in the form of tables and diagrams.
The integration of 2,200 references over a long period of almost forty years made it possible to incorporate the few mentions of the Pléiade (by Ronsard, by some of his Protestant adversaries at the start of the 1560s, and by some poets of the following generation) and the few references to a Brigade of fine poets (by Ronsard and some of his friends in the 1550s and 1560s: Baïf, Magny, Belleau, and Grévin) in a whole range of texts highlighting chosen forms of literary sociability in various ways.
Such a wide reach, which would not have been possible without a data-processing tool, meant I could link multiple types of group, whether based on: geographic criteria (representations of the Poitevin network, a list of esteemed poets from Gascony, etc.); age (“generational” conflicts); aesthetic criteria (visionary poets versus simple rhymers, poets who sing about God versus poets who sing about love); denominational criteria (Catholic poets, Protestant poets); or even gendered criteria (women, though they had difficulties establishing a network).
The database allowed easy identification of all texts which used, for example, the qualifiers “young” or “old” to observe generational phenomena. As for the geographical anchor, this could be accessed via a search for “place of publication” or by a full-text search for regions, rivers, or towns named. A search for “Paris” (as place of publication and as a word present in the texts) reveals the construction of the myth of the city of Paris as the centre of the world, from Ronsard’s praise of “la ville où sont infuses / La discipline, & la gloire des Muses”23 (the city where are found / Discipline, and the glory of the Muses) (1550) until the exaltation of “Paris, mere des artz, des peuples, & des villes, / Des richesses, des loys, & polices civilles”24 (Paris, mother of the arts, people, and cities, / Riches, laws, and civil policy) by Jean de La Gessée (1583), via Nicolas Goulu’s affirmation: “Παῤῥισίων κόσμου παντòς ἄνασσα πόλις”25 (1578) (the city of the Parisians is mistress of the whole earth). The so-called “Pléiade” poets played an active part in this promotion of Paris, printing their works there, dating their “Notes to the Reader” as being from Paris, and singing the praises of the city in their verse. At the same time, several provincial circles of excellence are extolled in the examined texts:
• Networks from Normandie, Poitou, and Le Mans region: some list-poems,26 tombeaux poétiques,27 exchanges between poets demonstrating a similar attachment to a place,28 reveal networks from Poitou and Le Mans region in particular during the 1550s, with fluctuations in the composition of groups over the years; in the 1570s, some members of this network (Charles Toutain, for example) can be found in collections which reveal intense learned cultural activity in Normandy.29
• Networks from Quercy and Gascony: some list-poems30 sketch the outline of a poetic emulation in Toulouse in the 1550s; then, in the 1570s, several collections31 and exchanges between poets32 testify to the vivacity of literary circles in Gascony and to the attachment of the Gascon people to their native land.
• Networks from the Lyon and Mâcon regions: poetic emulation around Maurice Scève, Guillaume Des Autels and Pontus de Tyard flourished there in the 1550s, either via poets addressing one another,33 or via encomiastic honours,34 or list-poems.35
With detailed study, it is possible to analyse more precisely how the poets with strong ties to a province are positioned in other networks. One can, for example, ask for a list of poets addressed or mentioned by Jean Bastier de La Péruse with an indication of frequency.
Figure 3. Distribution of addresses
Result of the search “List of authors and number of times they are addressed by Jean Bastier de La Péruse in his whole career” (screenshot, “RéseauxPoètesXVI” database). On the right is the list of every author Bastier de la Péruse has addressed in all of his poems. On the left is the pop-up appearing when the cursor is placed on one section of the graph: here, we can see that Jacques Tahureau du Mans is the poet Bastier de la Péruse addresses the most frequently (Tahureau du Mans is addressed in 3 different texts by Bastier de la Péruse, that is to say in 16.7% of all his addresses).
Figure 4. Distribution of mentions
Result of the search “List of authors and number of times they are mentioned by Jean Bastier de la Péruse in his whole career” (screenshot, “RéseauxPoètesXVI” database). On the right is the list of every author Bastier de la Péruse has mentioned in all of his poems. On the left is the pop-up appearing when the cursor is placed on one section of the graph: here, we can see that Pierre de Ronsard is the poet Bastier de la Péruse mentions the most frequently (Ronsard is mentioned in 3 different texts by Bastier de la Péruse, that is to say in 33.3% of all the names he has mentioned).
One therefore can see that Bastier de La Péruse primarily names poets living or staying in the same region as him, Poitou: he addresses Jacques Tahureau three times (16.7% of La Péruse’s addresses to a poet), and Jean-Antoine de Baïf, Jean Boiceau de La Borderie, and Roger Maisonnier twice (11,1% each). On the other hand, he primarily alludes to poets who have gained a good reputation at court and who frequent the Parisian milieux: he alludes to Ronsard five times, and four times each to Du Bellay and Baïf. The latter acted as an intermediary figure between the Parisian poets – since he had also been promoted to the Brigade and since he shared in their enthusiastic impetus at the start of the 1550s – and the Poitevin group – having stayed in Poitiers for a year of his university studies 1553-1554. In this way, it would appear that links of regular contact occur in Bastier de La Péruse’s writing via direct address, while links of acquaintance (through hearsay or reading) were made most often by means of allusion.
Other criteria apart from geographic may determine the presentation of a grouping of poets, such as, for example, a symbolic numerus clausus. In this respect, the seven of the Pléiade is not the only figure that captures poets’ imagination. One search proposed by the “RéseauxPoètesXVI” user interface allows selection of texts which cite a given number of names. Reading poems through such a prism leads to several discoveries. Thus, while Ronsard (1556) thinks of the Pléiade of the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione, whom a constellation and a group of third-century BC Alexandrine poets were named after, Philibert Bugnyon (1557)36 and Gérard-Marie Imbert (1578)37 think of the figure of the Muses to establish lists of nine fine poets – as Charles de Sainte-Marthe had done before them in the “Tempé de France” (1540) – and others, such as Baïf (1574),38 look to designate Twelve Apostles of poetry.
Ronsard, moreover, isn’t the only one to be seduced by the idea of a Pléiade of fine poets. Twenty years after him, Pascal Robin Du Faux alludes to a “Pléiade Angevine” (a Pléiade from the Anjou region) in 1579, whose most brilliant star would be Pierre Le Loyer.39 He is probably thinking of the Ronsardian Pléiade and wants to revive it in a specific place (Anjou) and with new members. Since, while none of the poets of Ronsard’s Pléiade (Remy Belleau, Joachim Du Bellay, Jean-Antoine de Baïf, etc.) actually claimed to be part of such a group, this Ronsardian imaginary concept has had a profound effect on some of his contemporaries.
A search for the word Pléiade reveals that some poets regret not being part of the group: in 1560, in sonnet 69 of his collection Le Discours, Nicolas Filleul talks of his desire to find a path to poetic salvation, although he does not belong to the Pléiade (“Si me faut-il pourtant chercher un lieu aux cieux / Bien Ronsard, que ne sois luisant en ta Pléiade” – While I must however seek a place in heaven / Though, Ronsard, I may not shine in your Pléiade.) In 1578, Gérard-Marie Imbert makes the same speech in sonnet 8 of the Premiere partie des sonets exoteriques de G. M. D. I. (“je sçay que ne suis de ta docte brigade, / Et qu’encor moins je suis de ceux de la Pleiade. / Qui dit que je ne sois le moindre des derniers ?” – I know I am not of your learned brigade, / And that even less am I of the Pléiade. / Who says that I am not the least important of them?). In “Elégie à Monsieur Le Camus parisien,” published in 1581 but written in the 1560s, Nicolas Rapin is also frustrated, talking about himself in the third person to lament poetic ascension blocked by the hegemony of the Pléiade (“Toutefois pour autant qu’il n’est de la Pleiade / Et qu’il n’est point escript aux livres de ces dieux / Son ouvrage languist bien que pour faire mieux / Quelqu’un travailleroit qui a plus de bravade” – However while he is not of the Pléiade / And he is not mentioned in the books of these gods / His work languishes although to do better / Someone with more bravado would have to work). In essence, it is impossible to know exactly who is part of the Brigade or of the Pléiade in the minds of those who dreamt up these groupings, since the labels ar never accompanied by accurate or stable lists. However, those who say that they fall outside these groupings seem to have a fairly clear idea as to who is in them and who is not. As sociologist Nathalie Heinich says:
Being part of a group is a dream for writers who feel that they do not have access to it, just as being part of the literary “milieu” may be the dream of all – both writers and non-writers – who feel excluded from it. Since access to the milieu can, from the outside, be perceived as a prestigious resource, able to demonstrate the rarity of its members in relation to the anonymous and undifferentiated world of ordinary citizens; while frequenting this milieu, once granted access, is seen conversely as a factor of mingling among individuals, a lack of differentiation among peers, which obstructs the work of originality conducive to authentic creation. (2000: 146)
Others, in contrast, are happy not to be part of the Pléiade. The Protestant Henri Estienne, in chapter seven of his Introduction au traité de la conformité des merveilles anciennes avec les modernes (1566) mocks the “messieurs les poëtes de la pleïade” (gentlemen poets of the Pléiade). The poet Florent Chrestien, also from the Protestant camp, prides himself on not having shared in their activities in “Sonnet à Ronsard” from 1563: “Je n’ay suivy la Pleiade enyvree / Du dous poison de ton brave cerveau” (I have not followed the Pléiade, intoxicated / By the sweet poison of your elegant mind). Like those who express their frustration at not being a member, those who declare their satisfaction at remaining outside help give consistency to what was at the outset nothing but a fleeting, Ronsardian, imaginary group.
This imaginary is actually structuring, in terms of positions: the position of those who denounce the Ronsardian hegemony which closes off access to literary recognition, or more specifically to what could be akin in Bourdieusian terms to a “sub-field of restricted production” (Bourdieu 1991: 7) in which symbolic capital accumulates; the position of those who denounce the Ronsardian aim to unite a group of fine poets who are in fact nothing but a group of madmen.
The strength of Ronsard’s influence is measured, finally, by the imitations of many poets of some of his poems highlighting the poetic sociability at the centre (and on the summit!) of which he can be found. Marc-Claude Buttet, who moved to Savoie after starting his career in Paris, complains of feeling alienated, but makes the most of his situation to develop a kind of local poetic domination, modelling his position on that of Ronsard. In 1550, Ronsard published a poem titled “A son retour de Gascogne voiant de loin Paris” (Les Quatre premiers livres des Odes) in which he imagines his friends running towards him enthusiastically; and in 1560 Buttet published “Sur son retour des champs” (Le Premier livre des vers) in which he depicts himself returning to Chambéry (capital of the Savoyard state) where his friends are waiting, and they hold a feast for him. The metre is identical (decasyllable); the two poems are composed of quatrains; the composition and wording also are very much alike. Similarly, imitating “Les Bacchanales ou le folastrissime voyage d’Hercueil” of 1552 (Les Amours) in which Ronsard presents the Brigade’s festive and rural activities, Marc-Claude de Buttet in ode XIX of his Premier livre des vers (1560) takes up the theme, composition, and cheerful rhythm, but replaces the names cited by Ronsard with those of local poets. This enabled Buttet to adopt the same attitude of group leader as Ronsard in Paris vis-à-vis the Savoyard poets. Jean Vauquelin de La Fresnaye, a poet from the Poitou region, also imitated Ronsard’s “Bacchanales” in “Description de l’aurore, pour s’aller jouer à ses compaignons êtans à Chêli. 1553,” which appeared in Les Deus Premiers Livres des Foresteries. Like Buttet, he changes the names of the poets gathered for a merry banquet, and this time they are poets from Poitou.
As a conclusion, systematically comparing several hundreds of texts reflecting the poetic sociability of the period 1550-1580 puts Ronsard’s visions of an elite group of poets – the Brigade, or with a higher degree of selectivity, the Pléiade – into perspective with other conceptual groupings. It also leads us to find echoes in “local” imitations of some of Ronsard's poems exalting a poetic sociability of which he is the centre.
Our chosen historical span actually covers two generations of poets, that of 1550 and that of 1570. The outbreak of the French Wars of Religion link the two. The wars had an impact on relations between poets, and resulted in a reconfiguration of the friendships displayed, as reflected in various texts that are recorded in the database. Thus, over the course of the different republications of his “Isles Fortunées” (“fortunate islands”), one can see the evolution of the list of poet friends invited to set off towards these idyllic places with Ronsard: in 1560, Jacques Grévin and Jérôme L’Huillier de Maisonfleur get into the boat of the happy few; Grévin is pushed out in 1567, L’Huillier de Maisonfleur in 1584, both having taken part in the Protestant Reformation. Sometimes, republications are the occasion of potent deletions: while the Protestant Louis Des Masures included the poem “Ad P. Ronsardum, & Io. Bellaium poëtas” in his Carmina, he removed this text from the 1574 edition, concluding his rupture with the Catholic Ronsard.
Whatever their religious beliefs, it is noticeably less common for members of the 1570 generation than it used to be for the members of the previous generations, to start a career in literature by claiming rupture (the lexical oppositions of “young”/“old” are much less frequent, for example). The 1550 generation, however, tends to be more or less benevolent towards the newcomers.
Figure 5. A few poets of the generation 1570-1580 mentioned by Ronsard, Baïf and Dorat during the period 1567-1585
Table realized thanks to data provided by the “RéseauxPoètesXVI” database.
Aside from the unanimous silence which met the Protestant Guillaume Du Bartas, there are different attitudes among the three poets of the “Pléiade” considered in this inquiry. Jean-Antoine de Baïf openly displays his admiration and friendship for Philippe Desportes, who becomes the favourite poet of Henry III in the 1570s. Baïf names Desportes twelve times between 1572 and 1581 and notably offers him an adulatory liminary text for his Premieres œuvres of 1573. Ronsard refuses to enter into any “transfer of symbolic capital” (Saint-Amand 2013) with Desportes, the poet from Chartres. He chooses, however, to support the poetic production of his secretary, Amadis Jamyn, who in turn endlessly praises Ronsard. Dorat appears as the most conciliatory and unifying figure of the entire period of 1550-1580. After teaching the young Ronsard and Baïf at the end of the 1540s, he proves to be less selective than his former students were, and sponsors many poets between 1570 and 1580, as can be seen in the table (fig. 5): Philippe Desportes, Jean de La Gessée, Amadis Jamyn, Clovis Hesteau de Nuysement, etc. In turn, many scholars of the 1570 generation sing the praises of he who had been the poeta regius since 1567: in the “Note to the Reader” of his Œuvres poetiques (1578), Clovis Hesteau de Nuysement alludes to “Monsieur d’Aurat [s]on precepteur” (Monsieur d’Aurat his tutor)40; François de Belleforest describes him as a “fanal” (beacon) and an “eschole” (school) master.41
Examining the networks of citations over the two generations also highlights a double movement. On the one hand, when list-poems are isolated in the database (among which I have chosen those listing at least five contemporary poets), the result is a body of seventy-eight poems showing that:
• list-poems are more frequent in the period 1549-1569 (fifty-four poems listing five names and more in the database, that is to say an average of 2.5 lists per year) than in the period 1570-1585 (twenty-three lists, or an average of 1.4 lists/year).
• list-poems contain on average more names during the 1549-1569 period (9.4 names/list) than in the 1569-1585 period (8.4 names/list).
The original enthusiasm that encouraged poets to represent themselves as a large collective, like a flood, had probably been tempered by the wars of religion. Moreover, encomiastic honours increase in number over the decades, as can be seen from these few milestones (fig. 6).
Figure 6. Number of liminary and post-liminary texts in a few collections of poems between 1549 and 1585
Table realized thanks to data provided by the “RéseauxPoètesXVI” database.
The emphasis on scholarly sociability thus tends to shift from the heart of the work (as in the list-poems written by a poet to showcase the wider collective he is part of) towards the periphery of the work (liminary and postliminary texts – the juxtaposition of which creates a list effect). The promotion through poetry of enthusiast groups of poets also gives way to showy displays of amassed endorsements at the start and end of the collection. This movement follows the reigns of Henry II and Charles IX – the 1550-1560s, which literary history has labelled “Pléiade” – until the accession of Henry III, “homme de Cour et pénitent, mondain, dépensier et dévot,” (a courtier and a, worldly, prodigal, and devout penitent), “homme du spectacle toujours dans le paraître” (a man of spectacle for whom appearance is essential) (Fragonard 1992: 48), whose favourite poet was Philippe Desportes.
Finally, the database can be used to bring to light a number of little-known poets usually excluded from literary history of the 1550-1580 period. Thanks to data-processing which allows for an easy navigation between a large number of texts, I was able to examine many more collections and collect many more texts than I would have without it, for fear of being overrun by the sheer number of documents.
It was therefore possible for me to take into account poets whose name is rarely emphasized in sixteenth-century studies, and to link them to the network either through liminary poems offered to better-known poets; or via little-known collections which they published containing poems mentioning colleagues; or because they were occasional addressees of poets whose works I scrutinized. For instance, a liminary sonnet by Roland Du Jardin given to Clovis Hesteau de Nuysement for his Œuvres poetiques of 157842 attracted my attention because it balances “the Sun” (Ronsard) with “the Moon” (Nuysement). Similarly I was interested in the collection published by Maclou de La Haye in 1553 (Les Œuvres de Maclou de La Haye, Piccard) because Ronsard and Du Bellay cite his name as an early companion. Maclou de La Haye shows his appreciation by being among the first to openly call Ronsard the “Prince of Poets”43; and to make of Du Bellay, born in Anjou (therefore an Angevin), a “divine angel”44 (playing with the assonance angevin/ange divin). These little-known poets included in our account of the poetic profusion of 1550-1580 are often anchored in the provinces: Gérard-Marie Imbert (from Condom) and Jean de Boyssières (from Clermont-Ferrand), for example, join the great performance of literary sociability that “RéseauxPoètesXVI” makes visible.
Finally, by widening the focus, the role of women can be recognized. We surveyed as many collections as possible by female poets and thus compiled their references to other poets. Among these women, there are the Dames Des Roches, for instance, who conduct a literary salon in Poitiers between 1570 and 1580, or Marie de Romieu, who sighs, “par fois je voudrois estre, / … ce divin Ronsard, la gloire des François”45 (sometimes I would like to be, / … this divine Ronsard, the glory of the French) (1581). They are supported by men. For example, Ronsard and Dorat give Anne de Marquets liminary texts for her Sonets, prieres et devises, en forme de Pasquins (1562), and Scévole de Sainte-Marthe claims to read her “beaux vers” (fine verse) “cent fois le jour” (a hundred times a day) in a sonnet dedicated to her from 1569.46 Female poets, however, are too few, too spread out over time, and dedicated to too many different genres (erotic poetry for Louise Labé in 1555; Catholic religious poetry for Anne de Marquet in 1562 and 1569; Protestant poetry for Georgette de Montenay in 1567, etc.) to form a network between them. But, studying liminary texts across the collections in the corpus reveals the signatures of occasional female poets in works by men, especially from 1570 onwards. Women thus appear to acquire a voice capable of legitimizing a male work: this is the case for Madeleine de L’Aubespine (a liminary text for Desportes’ Premières œuvres in 1573); Marguerite Le Loyer (a liminary text for Pierre le Loyer’s Les Œuvres et meslanges poetiques, 1579); and Madeleine de Saint-Gelais (a liminary text for Flaminio de Birague’s Les Premieres Œuvres poetiques, 1585), plus a few more.
Beyond detailed analyses of the extent and abundance of these transfer of credits between scholars, of the various types of groupings, or of the particular position of a poet or another within the network, the database supports the claim by Gisèle Mathieu-Castellani that “one of the characteristic traits of the poetry of the Pléiade is undoubtedly its self-reflexive activity” (Mathieu-Castellani 1986: 659). While Mathieu-Castellani considers above all the reflection of poets on writing, I want to highlight their reflection on what links them together and allows them to form one or several specific groups. The considerable number of poems brought together by “RéseauxPoètesXVI” demonstrates the poets’ strong desire to be seen to be in dialogue with their peers, or even to be part of a profession, although they may be divided by disagreements, and despite the fact that depictions of groups of poets often provide an opportunity to establish internal hierarchies. This being the case, poets in our corpus – who Alain Viala points out had “long put poetry at the centre of the social scene” (Viala 2014: 269) – appear to work collectively to strengthen the visibility of poets and of the prestige of poetry, especially in the eyes of the nobility of the kingdom, to whom, we should remember, the majority of their collections are dedicated.
Indeed, the magnifying effect of a corpus composed of a selection of texts taken from a larger set should not obscure the fact that the majority of poetic production of this period is directed at the king and the nobility. The latter, following the “cultural revolution” instigated by Francis I (Gadoffre 1997), are inclined to protect the arts since this is now a source of social prestige (Charton-Le-Clech 1993; Gadoffre 1997). But poets have to charm those best-placed among them, who often serve as a link to the king (Buron 2006). Thus poets are clearly not only concerned with sustaining dialogue between peers and mutually handing out symbols of credit. Exchanges of praise between colleagues support the career strategies of these men who are looking for protectors and patrons in order to make a livelihood in the form of grants, ecclesiastic benefits, or various positions of employment (secretaries, readers, etc.) Michel Simonin shows how a good deal of Ronsard’s energy is taken up with manoeuvres to acquire priories, benefit bartering, and trafficking of all types (Simonin 1990). In other words, during the Renaissance there is no autonomization of the “literary field” as Pierre Bourdieu has shown for the nineteenth century (Bourdieu 1991 and 1996).
Nevertheless, by mutually citing each other to increase their notoriety and get the best positions with respect to powerful figures, poets organize their visibility and seek to increase recognition of the poetry status. They come to present themselves, for that matter, as stonemasons and constructors of monuments,47 using the term “companions”48 to refer to their group. The word suggests the idea of an “association of solidarity between workers of the same professional field” (definition from the Trésor de la langue française informatisé), as in the guild system. Poets thus fuel discourse on the specificity of poetry, and participate in supporting a “specificity-autonomy” of literature. Indeed, Bernard Lahire calls for a distinction between, on the one hand, the specificity-autonomy of literature – “that is to say its existence as a particular sphere of activity distinct from other spheres” (2012: 80) – and on the other hand the independence-autonomy vis-a-vis political, religious, and economic powers. For him, independence-autonomy “came about before the end of the nineteenth century” (2012: 79), and “the only thing we can say with certainty is that historically we went from writers’ dependence on political and religious powers, financiers, and sponsors of works, to general dependence on the market” (2012: 82). Without doubt, all the identified representations of relations between poets involve a reflection on and promotion of the specificity of the group of poets. Without being an innovation – since specificity-autonomy undoubtedly came about even before the second half of the sixteenth century – the representations attract attention for their great number, their public character (since they were published), and the sketches they sometimes contain of a space apart with its own rules.
As said before, a portion of the corpus studied here is composed of liminary texts exchanged among poets, which provide a kind of guard of honour at the start of their collections, and whose number generally increases over the years. For Michel Simonin, who is interested in Ronsard’s encomiastic practice, the increase in liminary texts in collections during the sixteenth century is highly significant: “What we have here, in truth, is an indication of the natural formation of a literary institution, and of the tentative elaboration of rules destined to both determine and promote it” (Simonin 2004 : 336). Encomiastic honours which encompass a poet’s work, are a space where an estimation between peers can take place, therefore offering men and woman of letters a platform from which to organize their little world. This little world can actually be more tyrannical than the royal or prince’s courts, according to Michel Simonin, since when a friend is supplicating the poet to write verse, this is a “much stronger contract than those imposed, for example, by royal commission” (Simonin 2004 : 345).
These encomiastic honours suggest that the first readers and critics of poetry were poets. This is what Du Bellay claims in the “Note to the Reader” for L’Olive, 1549: “Je ne cherche point les applaudissemens populaires. Il me suffit pour tous lecteurs avoir un S. Gelays, un Heroët, un de Ronsart, un Carles, un Sceve, un Bouju, un Salel, un Martin, et si quelques autres sont encor’ à mettre en ce ranc. A ceulx là s’addressent mes petiz ouvraiges. Car s’ilz ne les approuvent, je suis certain pour le moins qu’ilz louront mon entreprise.”49 (I do not look in any way for popular approval. For all readers, it is enough for me to have an S. Gelays, a Heroët, a Ronsart, a Carles, a Sceve, a Bouju, a Salel, a Martin, and if there are still more to add to this rank. I address my little works to them. Since while they may not approve them, I am at least certain that they will appreciate my project). This assertion is contradicted by the use of print publication – which is arguably unnecessary for such a restricted readership – and by the dedication of the work to “tresillustre Princesse Madame Marguerite seur unique du Roy” (the most illustrious Princess Madame Marguerite, only sister of the King). In addition, the names mentioned serve, above all, as poetic endorsements for newcomer Du Bellay. Nevertheless, the assertion gives the impression of a world of poetry which produces for itself.
Another section of the corpus studied, as indicated, is composed of list-poems, which constitute an opportunity to establish rankings or simply to list the names of esteemed contemporary poets. It is interesting to note that the context is often that of a trip to the country or a meeting on an island. In “Bacchanales” (1552) and “Les Isles Fortunées” (1553) – two poems which draw up lists of colleagues participating in “happy” sociability – Ronsard uses anaphora: “Partons… Partons...” (Let’s leave ... Let’s leave ...). In the first case, they are leaving Paris to go to the surrounding countryside; in the second, they are leaving a Europe beset by religious rifts to go to the “Isles Fortunées.” In these places set apart, joyous poetic sociability can flourish. In the vein of “Isles Fortunées,” Philibert Bugnyon extols “L’Isle Pontine” (1557)50 where poets can gather. Called Pontine because it belongs to Pontus de Tyard, Pontine Island welcomes poets from the Mâconnais district (Guillaume Des Autels, François Tartaret, Gratian Chandon, etc.). Pontine and the Isles Fortunées are examples of legendary imaginary insular worlds: Bugnyon’s Pontine is populated by gods and goddesses of mythology; and the Isles Fortunées can amount to a utopia since, while identified geographically as the Canary Islands, they are associated in the ancient imaginary world with the myth of the golden age, and constitute legend. In these examples, the desire for bucolic freedom and the imagined insular world allow meetings of poets to take place somewhere faraway, and often within a confined space (an island). This undoubtedly forms the representation of a poetic space that is separate from other social spaces. However, this idea is a fragile one. Either the desire for autonomy from political constraints and material concerns fade once the group of poets has to return to Paris with some bitterness following the trip to the country (“Les Bacchanales”)51; or the distancing – or even the self-sufficiency – are simply a fantasy: the poets’ voyage to the îles Fortunées is merely Ronsard’s vision; although “L’Isle pontine” has historical basis, the poem ends with a dream: that Ronsard and Du Bellay return to the island one day.
This study of the presentation of poets’ networks in the second half of the sixteenth century finds echoes in other converging analyses. In L’École des Muses, rather than focusing on references between poets of the “Pléiade,” Jean-Charles Monferran is interested in poetry of the 1550s which promotes contemporary productions. He claims that Sébillet’s Art poetique françois (1548), Du Bellay’s Deffence (1549), Claude de Boissière’s Art poetique (1554), Jacques Peletier’s Art poëtique (1555), and several other theoretical works “seek to define a field specific to poetry” (Monferran 2011: 17). This is reinforced by the use of many examples from contemporaries: Claude de Boissière refers to Ronsard, Le Caron, and Denisot among others; Jacques Peletier evokes the production of Ronsard, Du Bellay, de Tyard, de Baïf, de Des Masures, and de Jodelle, but also Marot, d’Héroët and Saint-Gelais. Thus, these publications seek to “collaboratively delineate a unique sphere for French literature, in a completely unique way, and to create France’s own Parnassus” (Monferran 2011: 17), since those poets presented as examples, are chosen among contemporaries deemed to be the most exemplary.
Emmanuelle Mortgat-Longuet (2006) thinks that the birth of “the history of (French) literature” takes place in the second half of the sixteenth century, in the intellectual milieu surrounding the “Pléiade” (Charles de La Mothe, Étienne Pasquier, Claude Fauchet). The aim is to establish a modern French literature as its “recognition was not readily apparent” (Mortgat-Longuet 2006: 11). This emergence can be explained, according to her, by the desire to in some way “repair” the damage of the Wars of Religion through the representation of a French cultural identity.
In these two cases, researchers are interested in theorists’ and historians’ representations in the second half of the sixteenth century of the poetic activity of their time; they both emphasize the uniqueness of the “Pléiade” period, which sees the creation of texts establishing a space for French poetry with its own history and a canon composed of contemporary poets. Certainly, these representations are fuelled by those provided by the poets’ themselves of their own activity. Furthermore, many of those who write about poetry or literary history are themselves poets (Jacques Peletier, Étienne Pasquier). Others take up poets’ visions of literary history on their behalf: in his preface to the posthumous edition of the works of Jodelle in 1574,52 for example, Charles de La Mothe appropriates the very “selective” understanding of literary history which Du Bellay, Ronsard, and friends wished to impose when they set out, declaring that their predecessors had not done much of value and that the true great French poetry would begin with them.
This work on poets’ representations of their own activity in the second half of the sixteenth century – representations which partly informed the productions of contemporary theorists and the first historians of literature – can thus enrich our understanding of this particular moment in literary history. Men and women of letters’ reflection on the place and value of poetry, the establishment of an image of French literature by the collective efforts of poets, theorists, and historians, as well as the poets’ will to present the network they formed, undoubtedly created the ground in which is rooted the new configuration of seventeenth-century literary life, as brought to light by Alain Viala (1985).
In summary, the “RéseauxPoètesXVI” database is a tool for a quantitative approach to literary sociability as presented in a body of publications dating from 1549 to 1586. It allows to recreate a network of citations among poets and investigate its development over thirty-five years, that is to say over two generations of poets. Since it also gives access to the texts, quantitative and qualitative approaches can be combined to reconstruct the tight and complex mesh of affinities and enmities displayed between peers. In so doing, the imaginary groupings of the Brigade and the Pléiade may be situated in their true place: on the one hand, within numerous group representations and linked to various criteria such as that of geography or a symbolic number (7, 9, 12); on the other hand, within a vast network of citations between authors, which includes poets – among them, some women – who are little-known today, all connected more or less directly to this group of the “bons” (fine poets)53 which literary history has retained.
While “RéseauxPoètesXVI” can measure relations as presented between poets; the intensity of transfers of credit; and the centrality or marginality of poets, the database’s ultimate value is its ability to measure the importance, both for the “Pléiade” generation and its successors, of the presentation of poets as a group and of the publication of their texts as part of a dialogue between peers. The literary world can thus be seen as a reticulate. We should not forget that the poems selected from the collections would in reality sit alongside many other poems addressed to powerful people who are then an indispensable economic support for the poets. While there is as yet no autonomization of the literary field, poets’ efforts to show themselves to be connected to one another help bring a visibility and legitimacy to the specific domain of French literature. If we add to this the work of theorist friends of the “Pléiade” who cite the poetic productions of their contemporaries as examples, and the emergence of the first historians of literature who highlight French Renaissance writers as authorities, we see the implementation of an organisation of literary life which would develop and free itself in the seventeenth century to give consistence to a fairly autonomous social space, to constitute what Alain Viala considered as a first “literary field.”
Figure 7. Photo-montage by Florence Bonifay, using sixteenth-century engraved portraits of Renaissance authors
Mauss Marcel (2001). The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies. Translated by W.D. Halls. London, Routledge.