The influence of french literature on Europe (Emeline Maria Jansen, 1919)
The Influence Of French Literature On Europe ; An Historical Research Reference Of Literary Value To Students In Universities, Normal Schools, and junior colleges (1919) – Emeline maria Jansen


Télécharger en PDF




The mission of this little work is to bring before the reader the influence that the life and thought of the French people, as shown in their literature, have had upon the world.

      Not only many of the scientific discoveries, but also some of the most brilliant ideas in literature have been accredited to other nations, although they are French in their origin.

      The purpose of this book is to trace the influence of France from her earliest days to the present time, and to inspire the reader with a real love for the French people.

      The French people so brilliant, so courageous, so full of animation and vim are a people whom we today especially wish to know. The literature helps us to understand and to appreciate them. It tells us what they thought, how they lived, how they fought, and what they did. The French esprit and culture come to us through their literary works. Nowhere else do we find such living with such love for order, beauty, and clearness of style. The French show a constant tendency to please even when contradicting. They have an original aptitude for sociability, which has endeared them to other nations. The phrases and sentences, as well as words of the French introduced into the English during the Norman Conquest, have had much to do in giving the English a refining tone. For in a subtle way, every language grows to associate with it- self the thoughts and aspirations of the people with whose lives it is inextricably inter-woven. So the French, breathing an air of extreme culture and refinement has permeated our language with the same culture. Ever since the early dawn of civilization, the French people full of ready wit, creative imagination, and spirit have led the literary world.

      It is the desire of the author to inculcate in the minds of the young students a real love for that which is French –  a love for the creative art and the genius d’esprit of the French, a love for the French people, their language and literature.

      The college and university students will find here in this little work of historical literary research material for the writing of themes and essays on the subject of France and what she has given to the world. In order that the student may read more widely on this subject, ample references to larger and more complete works have been given. May the reader be inspired to read many of the French works on the subject of the greater freedom for which we are now fighting!

      It has been said justly, « Every man has two countries his own and France,  » tout homme a deux pays, le sien et puis la France (Bounier). This is true now more than ever when France has become a part of us in the great struggle for freedom, in the struggle for world-wide Democracy, the freedom where the individual shall be educated as a unit and shall be encouraged to think and act for himself, a freedom where a man can grow and expand only by striving to lift others up to a higher plane of thinking and living, a freedom which shall indeed lead to Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite, a freedom based on tolerance, harmony, and peace everlasting.

      France through her wonderful literature has shown us how to live, through her undaunted courage she has set us an example of how to fight, and through her wonderful bravery has shown us how to die. It was a French mother who after losing six sons in this present war for freedom said, « I gave my six sons for the liberty of France. I am sorry I have not a seventh one to give. « 

      The author wishes to express her sincere gratitude to those whose eminent scholarship has been of great aid in the writing of this book, Dr. Robert L. Fleury, Kath- ryn Monroney Ray, M. A. , and Dr. Ida Kruse Mc Far- lance, of Denver University. The writer would also thank those other friends who have as kindly, though in a minor degree, helped with suggestions and advice in the publica- tion of this work.

First Period
Eleventh, Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries

THROUGH the medium of the French, the epic of  the Celtic and Graeco-Roman traditions was re-juvenated and transformed into the German epic. The ideas of chivalry coming from the French find expression in the minnesongs of the twelfth century. In them we find the aristocratic ideas of life portrayed. These laid the foundation of public life in that time. It is from the French that the chivalric ideal gets its supreme poetic expression. The extreme idea of individuality has its roots in humanism introduced by the French and taken up and advanced by Goethe and Kant.

The German Rolandslied is almost a direct imitation of the French Chanson de Roland. However, the Chanson de Roland is full of patriotic love and intense enthusiasm for « sweet France » and her great heroes. It is in itself a beautiful testimony of the growth of French national feeling. The Rolandslied lacks greatly in vim and enthusiasm, as is apt to be the case with imitators.

The provincial troubadour song was the direct inspiration of the minnesong. It is due to those beautiful troubadour songs that we have the rich and full-sounding German lyrical verse, which so nicely shows the poetic and chivalrous conception of love, seen in the minnesong. The court epic of which the Nibelungen Lied is a good example, is an outgrowth of chivalrous songs which were inspired by the French troubadours. These German epics came from foreign traditions and were made to charm the ladies and gentlemen of the aristocracy who admired gallantry and were well versed in court manners. France was the land and home of cavaliers, and from there the ideas of gallantry as well as the poetical traditions had been brought into Germany. In these lyrics we find the chivalrous spirit at its height. In the poems for court society, we find a direct imitation of French court manners, the striving to cultivate a sense for class distinction and conventionalties. We find in them all kinds of French fashionable sports and so cannot doubt that the French were the originators. Were it not for the French chivalric period, we should not have had the beautiful stories of Wolfram’s Parcival or Gottfried’s Tristam.

France always has distinguished herself for learning. As far back as 771, when Charles the Great was king of France and Emperor of the West, he established an academy in his palace Aix-la-Chapelle, and he himself attended the sittings. By his liberality he attracted the most distinguished scholars to his court. France then flourished in learning ; she was already richer in books and in scholars than any other country at the time. She was even then sending her beacon lights of learning into all parts of the world. The great men of Germany came to Paris to discuss questions of education.

Charles the Great in his long reign of forty-six years, spread French learning and culture over many lands. Let us quote from Nelsons Encyclopaedia: « He conducted or directed fifty-three expeditions, and warred against twelve nations. » Again: « He encouraged agriculture, commerce, and industry, both by precept and example. Himself no mean scholar, he welcomed to his court men of learning such as Alcuin and Eginhard, established schools, promoted great public works, built splendid palaces and in every way showed that he had the heart and the brain to rule the realms his military genius had won. »

According to some scholars no one of the ancients could be placed above him, and the age in which he lived could not show his equal in learning and talent.

The didactic and narrative poetry of the fourteenth century can also be traced to the French. These poems, which in many respects show that they are an outgrowth of the minnesong, inspired by the French troubadours, as we have seen, were not intended to amuse and to flatter court society, but rather to instruct the people in general in the mysteries of human nature and character. They may be said to be an amusing and instructive caricature of human nature and society. It is an effort to picture human character as developed under the everyday influences and experiences. « The Reinike de Vas, is plainly the development of the animal epic from the Ecbasis Captivi and hengrirnas through the French Roman de Renart and Isengrimes Not, by Heinrich des Gichesaere to the Roman van den vos Reinaerde by the Flemish poet Willena and from there to the low German Reinike, and still further into the modern high German Reinike Fuchs by Goethe. In these stories Sir Isengrim, the wolf, afterwards created earl of Pikewood in the beast-epic of Reynard the Fox typifies the Barons and Reynard, the church. The gist of the story is to show how Reynard over-reaches his uncle the wolf.

« The origin of this comic and satirical production is involved, like most fables of the kind, in considerable doubt and perplexity. The earliest printed German copy would appear to have been that of 1498 which is in the dialect of the lower Saxony, though there was a Dutch romance in prose, bearing the same title Histoire by the Reynart de Vos, published at Delft, in 1485. The former one of 1498 was afterward translated into high German and also into Latin. It has been referred to many individuals as the author, — most commonly to Henry von Alkina but that his was not the first of the kind would appear from his preface, in which he merely assumes the merit of its translation. Nicholas Baumann, who is stated to have written it as a satire upon the Chancellor of the Duke Julius, is another author to whom it has with less authority, however, been attributed, his addition bearing no earlier date than 1522. In the translation it is stated to have been borrowed from the Italian and French tongues, but its individual origin is not pointed out. It is so far left in doubt, whether the German author copied from the Dutch publications at Delft, where the sole remaining copy is still, or whether both were translated or imitated from the French or some more hidden material of which the manuscripts have perished. » — T. Roscoe.

In the French these narrative poems are far more naive than we find them in the latter imitations, which would go to prove that they were originally French. The credit we give the French here is important, as their stories are the forerunners of the modern realistic novels which we at the present day seek for so ardently. In Reinike we find a great many incidents and situations drawn for the purpose of showing the emptiness and voidness of the conventionalities of society. We find the respect for all kinds of human beings, the sympathy for the innocent and lowly, the hatred for arbitrary power, and the respect for wisdom rather than cunning ; in fact, we find the same realistic tendencies which mark our present time. Hence, while we may say that these animal epics contain too much of the weirdness of the animal nature to be real portrayals of human character, yet in the modern novel we see the same endeavor to show the ridiculous side of conventionality where it is not backed by common sense and a desire to suppress unjust oppression and power ; and we can but draw the conclusion that the modern realistic novel takes its roots in these same narrative poems.

Second Period, i 273-1 494
The Renaissance

THOUGH the Renaissance began in Italy, yet it was through the French that it spread so rapidly through the Western continent. Fischart’s paraphrase of Rabelais’s Gargantua shows the effect of the French Renaissance upon Germany in particular. The Renaissance was a great declaration of independence. It was a breaking away from the old set of rules and a returning to the true classic art. In art, it called forth the masterpieces of Raphael, Michael Angelo, and da Vinci. In religion, it led the way to the Reformation. In philosophy, it overthrew scholasticism. In politics, it abolished feudalism by giving inspiration to independence of thought and action and by calling forth the sentiment of nationality, and preparing the foundation for a constitutional government. In classic art Italy took the lead, yet it was France that brought this art into Germany, England, and Spain. This she did the more easily because she had intimate relations with these countries in wars and commerce. « France having at last escaped from the disastrous English wars, showed her marvelous powers of recuperation. Nor was she behind in art. In the reign of Louis XII, the domestic architecture of the early Renaissance style reached, perhaps, its highest point of excellence before it became over-refined with ornaments and overloaded with luxuries ; for instance, witness the eastern facade of the Chateau of Blais, and part of the Château of Amboise. While so renowned were the glass painters of France, that Julian II, sent for the artists Claude and William de Marseille, to help decorate the windows of the Vatican. »

Germany was, no doubt, most deeply affected by the Reformation, especially on the religious and ecclesiastical side, yet in the wider sense of the Reformation it was France that took the lead. Jacques Lefevre of Etables may fairly claim the title of Father of the French Protestantism. When he was a lecturer on theology in Paris in 1512, he had taught in a commentary on the Epistles of Saint Paul, the doctrine of justification by faith five years before Luther had denounced indulgences. The same year under the patronage of Briconnet, the Bishop, he had collected a small band of men at Meanx in Champagne, of whom Farel of Dauphine was the most important and had also influenced Berquin, a nobleman and courtier, who was the friend of Erasmus. The University of the Sorbonne and also the Parliament of Paris opposed these new teachings of freedom of thought and action; but Francis I, who had started the College de France, stood firmly by the Protestants. His staunch support and the influence of the new college strengthened the cause of the Protestants greatly in spite of the jealousy of the Sorbonne. Francis was so much in love with the new movement that he appointed Lefevre as tutor to his children. Calvin and Zwingli were the two great leaders in the movement for the Reformation. It was their writings which were written in French and translated into German that stirred up the people to an assertion of freedom of thought and worship. Calvin’s works were not only of value because of their influence upon the Reformation movement, but also because of their high literary value. His works were translated into many languages and were scattered over all of Europe. « In 1535 he dedicated his Institutes to Francis I in the hope of convincing the king that his doctrines were not dangerous, and from that moment the French rapidly assimilated the teachings of their great countryman. »

In philosophy France took the lead. The Renaissance led to the spirit of criticism which was especially strong in France. Francis I was so much interested in literature and philosophy that he wanted to establish a school of literature and philosophy with Erasmus at the head.

Louis XII and Francis I were both in sympathy with learning to a high degree. Under Louis XIV France reached its supremacy.

In politics again it is France that leads. Lodge says that in 1273 as in 1313 Germany was a mere bundle of States under a nominal head, while France had received a strong national organization under the rule of Philip IV. Germany, on the other hand, was retarded for nearly a hundred years on account of the religious quarrels which resulted in the Thirty Years’ War. During this period many new schools and universities were built all over France. We owe the greatest and most important result of the Renaissance to France, and that is the union and not the antagonism of morality and culture. From the union comes a higher idea of morality than that brought by compulsion. This higher morality is alone suited to the free mind and free conscience of the thinking individual.

Francesco Petrarca (1 304-1 341 ), one of the first to lead in this new movement, was an Italian, yet he had lived in France and had studied the people and had become inspired by their love for freedom. Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375 ) a Florentine poet and statesman, who in his Decameron » shows great enthusiasm for the Renaissance, was French on his mother’s side. It was chiefly her independent way of thinking, and her fine sunny temperament as well as her thirst for learning that gave inspiration to Boccaccio’s works. 9 His mother kept always before him the truly beautiful, and placed him under every influence for refinement and culture. The two great leaders in the Renaissance were Politianus and Victorious. The former taught Latin literature in Florence; he wrote Latin verse with exquisite beauty of expression and was noted for strength and originality of style. The latter was one of the greatest philologists and critics of his time. As these leaders were Italians, we must credit Italy with the beginning of the new learning. France being so closely related to her in commerce and trade naturally caught the very first breath of the Renaissance and was the one to carry it to Germany, England and Spain. The Renaissance which has been termed a love for the things of the intellect and the imagination for their own sake, was especially taken up by the French with enthusiasm. They have ever displayed a vivid imagination and a great zeal for high, intellectual things.

In the period of the Renaissance we may mention Rabelais, famous for his wonderful mastery of the French language. He used an immense vocabulary to which he added a large contribution of technical terms of all arts and sciences. It is said of him that he used words derived from the Greek and Latin and all the dialects then spoken in France. His two famous works are gargantua and Pantagruel which were read in many countries and produced a great effect on Germany. Rabelais was a genius and a true representative of the times in which he lived, and as such he came to be read and studied by other nations. A literary critic has said of him that to know Rabelais was to know what the sixteenth century was thinking and talking about. He had a great intellect and was very humorous and witty. He possessed that satirical esprit gaulois which the French claim to have to a great extent. Rabelais was well versed in the classics of Latin and Greek and also in the modern Italian writers.

In Germany, Fischart, who at once recognized the merit of Rabelais’s Gargantua made a deep study of it, and then wrote a paraphrase of it. Fischart also had a fine vocabulary and imitated Rabelais very well in his descriptive style. In order to see the difference clearly between the Gargantua of Rabelais and Fischart’s imitation of it, we will quote Francke’s German Literature: « Where Rabelais is grotesque, Fischart is absurd ; where Rabelais paints with a pencil, Fischart paints with a broom ; where Rabelais has one illustration, the German has ten. » Then he goes on to say that Fischart lacks in power to select. Yet with all the defects of Fischart’s imitation, he nevertheless did a great work, for he brought Rabelais’s Gargantua before the German people, and made them know it as they would not have known it without him. Scholars who read the Gargantua naturally wanted to read the Paraphrase, and those who read the Paraphrase wanted to read the Gargantua, and so they set themselves to work to learn the French language with more zeal than they had ever done before.

Ronsard, the great French poet, in his renewed style of poetry was immensely admired by Opitz who imitated him closely. Ronsard believed that poetry should not deviate from certain fixed rules of form ; such for instance as the Alexandrian verse. Opitz who thought Ronsard absolutely correct, now followed him and so introduced this style into Germany ; and the minor poets, in their turn followed him. That Ronsard was deeply impressed with the idea of the Renaissance, we see from the fact that when he wrote Defense et Illustration de la langue francaise, he brought out in it that the perfection of French poetry could be attained only by the imitation of the Latin and the Greek classics. The seven literary stars of which Ronsard was the leader then made a code of rules for poetry. By these rules, poetry should be measured ; that is, good French poetry must come up to the rules set by these men. Opitz was considered the leader of poetic taste in Germany and, as he made their style his pattern, he introduced their style into Germany.

Malherbe, who is called the father of perfect French poetry is one of the most important leaders of this period. The French called him the « Reformateur du Parnasse francais. » Malherbe had such confidence in himself that he convinced others that he was right. He loved literary discussions, and would most boldly declare that to be right, or this to be wrong. He claimed to be a master on questions of grammar, literature, and versification. No doubt the main reason that his poetry is called perfect is that he is the first to keep up a sustained dignity of style all through his poems. He is extremely accurate in rhyme, lofty in his poetic taste, and keeps the style in harmony with the thought. This is why the poetry in France became fixed, at least as to style, through him. This is what Boileau says of him:

Enfin Malherbe vint, et, le premier en France,

Fit sentir dans les vers une juste cadence,

D’un mot mis en place enseigna le pouvoir,

Et reduisit la muse aux regles du devoir.

Par ce sage ecrivain la langue reparee,

N’offrit plus rien de rude a I’oreille epuree

Les stances avec grace, apprirent a tomber,

Et le vers sur le vers n’osa plus enjamber.


He preferred to write a sentence twenty times rather than to leave it imperfect to his excellent taste. The story is told of him that he wanted to write a letter of condolence to a dear friend who had lost his wife, but it took him so long to obtain the wished-for elegance of style that his friend had again married and so was no longer in need of the condolence. He was great as a lyric poet but still greater as a writer of odes. He was lofty and ideal in thought and deep in feeling. This may be seen in Stances a du Perrier sur la mort de sa fille.

French was commonly read in Germany and in England at this time, although Italian was not read. It was, therefore, through the French masterpieces that the spirit of the Renaissance was carried into the other countries. The German and English poets carefully studied the style set by these great masters and they too became embued with the spirit of the Renaissance. We must also mention Calvin who wrote in Latin but also a great deal in French. His works were ardently studied in Germany because of his views on religion. One of his greatest works is L’institution Cretienne. This is a skilful and eloquent plea for the doctrine of the Reformation. His style is so clear, energetic, and at the same time so noble that no prose writer of his time surpassed him, unless it was Rabelais. At this time, the influence of French Literature was very great as France was then considered the best place for scholars to meet. Men of learning flocked there from all countries.

Schools and colleges were being built everywhere. The great and learned scholars met in palace halls and private parlours to discuss the great questions of the new learning. The College de France, established by Francis I in 1530, offered shelter and protection to many great and earnest scholars, who thus meeting together in the common interests of a liberal education formed the French School of Classical Philosophy. This school was noted everywhere for its clear and accurate criticism, and its extensive encyclopaedic knowledge. There were men from all over the world there who discussed questions of learning. Among the French, we may note Adrien Turnabe, the greatest Greek scholar of his time; Denis Lambin, Director of the Royal Printing Establishment; Bernard de Montfaucon, who was the founder of scientific Palaeography; Mark Antoine Muret, who was one of the greatest stylists ever known ; and Isaac Causabon, who was one of the greatest scholars of his time. Who can measure the influence of the thoughts and writings of a school of such men upon Europe? Causabon was Professor of Greek at Geneva where he met many of the greatest German scholars. Later he went to England where he wielded an unequaled influence through his theological and classical scholarship. He wrote many works on ecclesiastical freedom, among them his great work Exercitationes Contra Baronium. King James I was very fond of him and made him « great in court circles. DuCange’s books were collected by the government and put in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris where scholars may now see and consult them. Bernard Montfancon has done a real and lasting service to the world by his works on archaeology. The effect of the culture and refinement of these scholars, who met at this school went out into all parts of the world. Then we must certainly mention Causabon, Justus Lipsius, and Joseph Scalinger who were called the Triumvirate because intellectually they towered above all their contemporaries. It was in the year of 1855, that Jacob Bernys of Berlin and Mark Pattison of Oxford made a close study of Scalinger and thus propagated French thought and culture in two countries at the same time. It is of great importance to note that the two countries are, at the same time, interested in the followers of the French school of two centuries before, and should now seriously study the French masters.

Desiderius Erasmus, though Dutch by birth, was reared in France and educated there. It was he who was to interpret the great intellectual movement of the Renaissance to the great thinkers of the northern part of Europe. This great scholar and leader among the intellectual men was a master of Latin and many other languages. He was one of the greatest humanists of his time, and was the representative of humanism. Erasmus made it his task to unite Southern culture to Northern strength and energy, and to give education such a high place in the minds of right-thinking men and women that all great and learned people could come together without any passport other than the cachet of a thorough education.

Erasmus wielded a great influence over England. He visited Oxford and met there many great men of culture, whom he inspired with his ideas on the new Learning. He preferred the University of Paris, however, and returned there to write and to study. Here he made a paraphrase of the New Testament, which was received in England with much applause. A translation was made in 1548 and ordered to be placed in all parish churches beside the Bible. His correspondence is of most permanent value. There are three thousand letters which are a series of dialogues, written first for pupils in the early Paris days as formulas for polite address and conversation. These letters were read in schools as forms of correct French. John Colet at Oxford was eager to introduce as many of Erasmus’s works as possible, since he so much admired him as a scholar. In this way his books were either read in French or translated into English.

Third Period
Seventeenth Century


Votre commentaire

Entrez vos coordonnées ci-dessous ou cliquez sur une icône pour vous connecter:


Vous commentez à l’aide de votre compte Déconnexion /  Changer )

Image Twitter

Vous commentez à l’aide de votre compte Twitter. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Photo Facebook

Vous commentez à l’aide de votre compte Facebook. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Connexion à %s

%d blogueurs aiment cette page :