1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Théophile

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THÉOPHILE, the name by which Théophile de Viau (or Viaud), French poet (1591–1626), is more commonly called. He was born in 1591, at Clairac, near Agen, and spent his early years at Bousseres de Mazeres, his father's property. He was educated at the Protestant college of Saumur, and he went to Paris in his twentieth year. In 1612 he met Balzac, with whom he made an expedition to the Netherlands, which ended in a serious quarrel. On his return he seems to have been for two years a regular playwright to the actors at the Hôtel de Bourgogne. In 1615 he attached himself to the ill-fated Henry, duke of Montmorency (1595–1632), under whose protection he produced with success the tragedy of Pyrame et Thisbé, acted probably about 1617 and printed in 1623, although placed later by some critics. This piece, written in the extravagant Spanish-Italian manner, which was fashionable in the interval between the P1éiade model and the innovations of Corneille, was ridiculed by Boileau (Preface to his Œuvres, 1701). Théophile was the acknowledged leader of a set of Parisian libertines, whose excesses seem to have been chiefly dictated by a general hatred of restraint. He himself was not only a Huguenot, but a free-thinker, and had made unsparing use of his sharp wit in epigrams on the Church and on the government. In 1619 he was accused of blasphemous and indecent writings, and was banished from Paris. He took refuge in the south of France, where he found protection with many friends. He was allowed to return in the next year, and effected a partial reconciliation with one of his most powerful enemies, the duc de Luynes. He served in that year in the campaign against the Huguenots, but in the autumn was again in exile, this time in England. He was re-called in 1621, and began to be instructed in the Roman Catholic religion, though his abjuration of Protestantism was deferred until the end of 1622. There is nothing to show that this conversion was purely political; in any case it did little to mollify his enemies. In 1622 he had contributed four pieces to the Nouveau Parnasse Satirique, a miscellany of verse by many hands. In the next year a new edition appeared, with the addition of some licentious verse, and the inscription par le sieur Théophile on the title-page. Contemporary opinion justified Théophile's denial of this ascription, but the Jesuit father, Francois Garasse, published a tract against him entitled La Doctrine curieuse (1623). Théophile was again prosecuted. This time he fled from Paris, to the court of Montmorency; and was condemned in his absence (19th of August 1623) to death. On his flight to the border he was arrested, and imprisoned in the Conciergerie in Paris. He defended himself in an Apologie au roi (1625), and was liberated in September, his sentence being commuted to banishment for life. Under Montmorency's protection he was able to hide in Paris for some time, and he subsequently accompanied his friend and patron to the south. He died in Paris on the 25th of September 1626.

The great interest aroused by the prosecution and defence of Théophile is shown by the number of pamphlets on the subject, forty-two of which, written between the dates 1622 and 1626, are preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

Les Œuvres du Sieur Théophile were printed in Paris in 1621, and other collections followed during his lifetime. Six years after his death Georges de Scudery edited his work with a Tombeau (copy of obituary verses), and a challenge in the preface to any one who might be offended by the editor s eulogy of the poet. A tragedy entitled Pasiphae, published in 1631, is probably not Théophile’s, and is not included in his works, the standard modern edition of which is that of Alleaume in the Bibliothèque Elzévirienne (2 vols. 1856). Besides Pyrame et Thisbé, his works include a paraphrase, half verse, half prose, of the Phaedo. There are numerous French and Latin letters, his Apologie, a promising fragment of comic prose narrative, and a large collection of occasional verses, odes, elegies, stanzas, &c.

In addition to Alleaume’s edition, a delightful article in Théophile Gautier’s Grotesques should be consulted respecting him. A full account of the extensive literature dealing with Théophile is given by Dr K. Schirmacher in a study on Théophile de Viau (Leipzig and Paris, 1897). In the Page disgracié of Tristan l’Hermite, the page makes the acquaintance of a dramatic author, and his description may be accepted as a contemporary portrait of Theo- phile's vigorous personality.