1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Du Bartas, Guillaume de Saluste

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DU BARTAS, GUILLAUME DE SALUSTE, Seigneur (1544–1590), French poet, was born near Auch in 1544. He was employed by Henry IV. of France in England, Denmark and Scotland; and he commanded a troop of horse in Gascony, under the marshal de Martingan. He was a convinced Huguenot, and cherished the idea of writing a great religious epic in which biblical characters and Christian sentiment were to supplant the pagan mise en scène then in fashion. His first epic, Judith, appeared in a volume entitled La Muse chrétienne (Bordeaux, 1573). This was followed five years later by his principal work, La Sepmaine, a poem on the creation of the world. This work was held by admirers of du Bartas to put him on a level with Ronsard, and thirty editions of it were printed within six years after its appearance. Its religious tone and fanciful style made it a great favourite in England, where the author was called the “divine” du Bartas, and placed on an equality with Ariosto. Spenser, Hall and Ben Jonson, all speak in the highest terms of what seems to us a most uninteresting poem. King James VI. of Scotland tried his “prentice hand” at the translation of du Bartas’s poem L’Uranie, and the compliment was returned by the French writer, who translated, as La Lepanthe, James’s poem on the battle of Lepanto. Du Bartas began the publication of the Seconde Semaine in 1584. He aimed at a great epic which should stretch from the story of the creation to the coming of the Messiah. Of this great scheme he only executed a part, marked by a certain elevation of style, but he did not succeed in acclimatizing the religious epic in France. The work is spoiled by a constant tendency to moralize, and is filled with the indiscriminate information that passed under the name of science in the 16th century. Du Bartas, perhaps more than any other writer, brought the Ronsardist tradition into dispute. He introduced many unwieldy compounds foreign to the genius of the French language, and in his borrowings from old French, from provincial dialects and from Latin, he failed to show the sure instinct and prudence of Ronsard and du Bellay. He was also guilty of reduplicating the first syllables of words, producing such expressions as pépétiller, sousouflantes. Du Bartas died in July 1590 in Paris from wounds received at the battle of Ivry.

Joshua Sylvester translated the Sepmaine in 1598; other English translations from du Bartas are The Historie of Judith ... (1584), by Thomas Hudson; of portions of the “Weeks” (1625) by William Lisle (1569–1637), the Anglo-Saxon scholar; Urania (1589), by Robert Ashley (1565–1641); and Sir Philip Sidney (see Florio’s dedication of the second book of his translation of Montaigne to Lady Rich) wrote a translation of the first “Week,” which is lost. The Œuvres complètes of du Bartas were printed at Paris (1579), Paris and Bordeaux (1611). See also G. Pellissier, La Vie et les œuvres de du Bartas (1883).