1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Baïf, Jean Antoine de
BAÏF, JEAN ANTOINE DE (1532–1589), French poet and member of the Pléiade, was born at Venice in 1532. He was the natural son of the scholar Lazare de Baïf, who was at that time French ambassador at Venice. Thanks, perhaps, to the surroundings of his childhood, he grew up an enthusiast for the fine arts, and surpassed in zeal all the leaders of the Renaissance in France. His father spared no pains to secure the best possible education for his son. The boy was taught Latin by Charles Estienne, and Greek by Ange Vergèce, the Cretan scholar and calligraphist who designed Greek types for Francis I. When he was eleven years old he was put under the care of the famous Jean Daurat (q.v.). Ronsard, who was eight years his senior, now began to share his studies. Claude Binet tells how young Baïf, bred on Latin and Greek, smoothed out the tiresome beginnings of the Greek language for Ronsard, who in return initiated his companion into the mysteries of French versification. Baïf possessed an extraordinary facility, and the mass of his work has injured his reputation. Besides a number of volumes of short poems of an amorous or congratulatory kind, he translated or paraphrased various pieces from Bion, Moschus, Theocritus, Anacreon, Catullus and Martial. He resided in Paris, and enjoyed the continued favour of the court. He founded in 1567 an académie de musique et de poésie, with the idea of establishing a closer union between music and poetry; his house became famous for the charming concerts which he gave, entertainments at which Charles IX. and Henry III. frequently flattered him with their presence. Baïf elaborated a system for regulating French versification by quantity. In this he was not a pioneer. Jacques de la Taille had written in 1562 the Manière de faire des vers en français comme en grec et en latin (printed 1573), and other poets had made experiments in the same direction. The 16th-century poets did not realize the incompatibility of the system of quantity with French rhythm. Baïf's innovations included a line of 15 syllables known as the vers baïfin. He also meditated reforms in French spelling. His theories are exemplified in Etrenes de poezie Franzoeze an vers mezures (1514). His works were published in 4 volumes, entitled Œuvres en rime (1573), consisting of Amours, Jeux, Passetemps, et Poëmes, containing, among much that is now hardly readable, some pieces of infinite grace and delicacy. His sonnet on the Roman de la Rose was said to contain the whole argument of that celebrated work, and Colletet says it was on everybody's lips. He also wrote a celebrated sonnet in praise of the massacre of Saint Bartholomew. Baïf was the author of two comedies, L'Eunuque, 1565 (published 1573), a free translation of Terence, and Le Brave (1567), an imitation of the Miles Gloriosus, in which the characters of Plautus are turned into Frenchmen, the action taking place at Orleans. Baïf published a collection of Latin verse in 1577, and in 1576 a popular volume of Mimes, enseignemens et proverbes. He died in 1589. His father, Lazare de Baïf, published a translation of the Electra of Sophocles in 1537, and afterwards a version of the Hecuba; he was an elegant writer of Latin verse, and is commended by Joachim du Bellay as having introduced certain valuable words into the French language.
- For an account of this academy see Edouard Frémy, Les Origines de l'Académie Française (1887).
- See L. Pinvert, Lazare de Baïf, 1496?-1547 (1900).