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him from dying of hunger. It appears, too, that Amyot was one of those "poor scholars of Paris" who were mainly supported by charity, which assured them, moreover, a place of rest when their life's labours should be done. One significant fact suffices to prove the boy's comparative destitution: his mother used to send him every week, by the watermen of his native town, a single loaf of bread, which Jacques must make the most of. Jacques must have seen closer than most of us into the meaning of the adage that half a loaf is better than no bread.
Scholarship was harder of attainment in those days than in ours; so much harder, that Amyot's penury might have seemed to forbid his advancement in any such route. But the lad, though a trifle slow, perhaps, was stout of heart, much-enduring, and high-aspiring. He seems to have acted as servitor to the students at Cardinal Lemoine's college; and the story goes that he used to read of nights by the light of burning charcoal, in default of oil or candles. The same story is also told of Ramus, and of young Drouot, the baker's son, who used to read beside his father's oven. Be the story mythical or not, at any rate Amyot's was a pursuit of knowledge under difficulties. But his was the Hebrew soldier's device, Though faint, yet pursuing. Faint he might occasionally and excusably be, especially when that weekly loaf, like Touchstone's wedded love, decreased upon further acquaintance-smaller by degrees, unbeautifully less-and yet must days in the plural number intervene ere his pleasantly-named mother, Marguerite des Amours, would be able to replace it by one of next week's batch. But he munched his hard crust-and only wished there were more of them he kept up his spirits, and delighted in study as its own exceeding great reward. Other rewards, however, awaited him despite the obstacles of his condition and the drawbacks on his career. At nineteen he took the degree of master of arts, and though his circumstances constrained him to take to teaching, to which his poverty only, not his will consented, for he would fain continue a learner, instead of turning preceptor,-still, the step he thus took was, for his material fortunes, a step upwards, as it introduced him to those who, in this sense, were the making of him.
After being private tutor in the family of Jacques Colin, a wellrespected abbé, who was Reader to the King, and had made some little name by some little jolis vers français,—Amyot accepted a similar engagement from one of the king's secretaries, Bochetel de Sassy. His Majesty's only sister, Margaret of Valois, who had ever an open eye to recognise merit, especially in the form of modest
-worth by poverty depressed,
and an open hand to do it service, so far as means or influence of hers might extend, heard of the young preceptor, saw him, and prognosticated for him a successful future. By her intervention he obtained a professorship at Bourges, which he held well-nigh a dozen years-lecturing twice a day, in the morning on Latin literature, and on Greek at noon.
A professorship like this monopolised the best part of Amyot's time. It was in his leisure hours, however, horis subsecivis, that he commenced the "beautiful translations which have immortalised him."* Pleased
* Léon Feugère.
with what he had done, and to encourage him to do more, Francis I. gave him the abbey of Bellosane. Henceforth the "college valet's" rise was rapid-in spite, after a while, of one potent ill-wisher, the QueenMother, who detested him.* He was despatched on a mission to the Council of Trent, which afforded him welcome opportunity for enriching his works at home, by allowing him to visit the libraries of Italy. Henri II. selected him as tutor to two of his sons, the Dukes of Orleans and Anjou, afterwards Charles IX. and Henri III. Nor were these his pupils, whatever their defects and vices, ever unmindful of or ungrateful to their kindly old preceptor. They made a pluralist of him, adding one fat living on another; they appointed him one of the Privy Counciland were eager, in short, to honour him with many honours. Charles IX., the very day after he came to the throne, made him Grand Almoner of France; anon he was saluted as Commander of the Order du SaintEsprit; in 1570 he (nolens volens episcopari) was consecrated Bishop of Auxerre; then again he was King's Librarian (in which post his successor was the historian De Thou); and in short, he was a most exceptional and unexceptionable example of what literature can do for a man, who has had, at starting, nothing else and nobody but himself to rely upon.
But, to gratify such foes as he had, there lurked a Nemesis behind all this prosperity. A long life's success was to be rudely shattered by latein-life reverses.
The assassination of the Guises at the Etats de Blois gave the signal to the malcontents and Ligue party of Auxerre: a superior of the Cordeliers, Claude Trahy, went about preaching and protesting everywhere that the Bishop of that diocese, our "good, easy, music-loving, diffident-in-public, quick-tempered but soon-reconciled, free, open, candid" Amyot,† had been cognisant of the crime beforehand, had approved of it in every particular; and that, in fact, by absolving the king, whose almoner he was, Amyot had made himself the king's accomplice, and was verily guilty in this matter.
Michelet attributes the origin of the onset against the prelate to sectarian spleen. It seems that Amyot, apprehensive of the Leaguers, had conceived a plan for protecting himself by inviting the Jesuits to his vicinity, and building them a college. This arrayed the Franciscans of Auxerre against him. "These mendicant monks entering into communication with the bargemen, vine-dressers, and coopers of Auxerre, made them believe, on Amyot's return from the Etats de Blois, that he had counselled the king to have the Guises assassinated. Amyot, all of a tremble, signed the Union. That availed him nothing. The Prior of the Franciscans took him for his text, and every evening, in his sermons, gave chase to the Bishop, condemned him, executed him." In vain the poor old man obtained a deed of absolution from the highest authority, the papal legate. It was only in death he was ever again to find repose.‡
As it too often happens, M. Feugère says, to moderate men in factious times, Amyot was a mark for the enmity of all parties, and the object of
Michelet, Histoire de France, t. x. (La Ligue), p. 322.
their most violent attacks. Egged on by seditious agitators, the people of Auxerre mutinied against their Bishop: the cry was to cut his throat for him, and nothing less. He was fired at, and only saved his life by flying from house to house. A month or two sufficed to reduce "the rich and flourishing Amyot" into "the most afflicted, overthrown, ruined poor priest, that ever, I believe," says he, "was in France." His welldisposed biographers allow that the misfortunes which befel him may be partly traced to his indecision of character, and to some errors which are imputable to this weakness, in a time of difficulty and distraction: but no one, they presume, will refuse a feeling of pity for this aged outcast of threescore and fifteen years, declaring himself, in that outburst of woe, "le plus affligé, détruit et ruiné pauvre prêtre de France."* It was not his privilege to live long enough to see Henri IV. a prosperous and accepted monarch, nor had he the keen previsionary eye to foresee that prince's future, nor the hopeful heart that could trust in him and in it. He died early in 1593, in his eighty-fourth year, unblest by gleams of the brighter prospect then dawning. Sainte-Beuvet contrasts him mournfully in this respect with the man of his choice, in ancient literature, Plutarch-who spent his last year gently and serenely in his town of Charonæa, an honoured magistrate and priest of Apollo-solaced by philosophy and the muses, and, very nearly a nonagenarian, spared, it is said, to hail the day-spring of a cheering reign, that of Antoninus Pius. No such Nunc dimittis for Plutarch's genial, congenial, grateful translator, the Christian bishop of Auxerre.
It is as Plutarch's translator-as the master of two languages who naturalised the graphic Greek in impressionable France-that Amyot really made and retains the celebrity, quite affectionate of its kind, so generally attached to his name. "Of all our French writers," declares old Montaigne, the most renowned of his contemporaries, "I give the palm, with justice methinks, to Jacques Amiot, as well for the propriety and purity of his language, in which he excels all others, as his application and patience in going through so long a work, and the depth of his learning and judgment in having been able to unravel and explain so difficult an author (for let people say what they please, I understand nothing of Greek, but I meet with sense so well connected and maintained throughout his whole translation, that certainly he either knew the true imagination of the author, or having, by long conversation with him, planted in his soul a thorough and lively idea of that of Plutarch, at least he has lent him nothing that either contradicts or dishonours him); but what I am most pleased with him for is the discreet choice he has made of so noble and useful a book to make a present of to his country. We ignorant people had been undone had not this book raised us out of the mire; by its favour we dare both speak and write; by it the ladies are able to school their schoolmasters: 'tis our breviary."‡ When Montaigne was in Rome, and dined one day at the French ambassador's, the table-talk turned on the merits of Amyot's Plutarch, and the great Essayist had to defend the translation as best he could, and his best would not be wanting, against the strictures of Muretus and other
* Léon Feugère.
+ Causeries du Lundi, t. iv. Montaigne's Essays, bk. ii. ch. 4. (Cotton's translat.) Dec.-VOL. CXXIII. NO. CCCCXCII.
savants. Indeed, the complaints were very numerous of inaccuracies in Amyot's construction of the Greek, and of the change he imparted to the manner of his original. But then Amyot is so "aimable," pleaded his friends; and the pleading prevailed.* Not that succeeding generations have failed to indorse the charge of inaccuracy in sense and mannerism in style. Very early in the annals of the French Academy, Vaugelas read a paper by Meziriac, "On Translation," which undertook to convict Amyot's Plutarch of "very gross mistakes," various in kind, to the number of two thousand. Meziriac was himself engaged on a new version of Plutarch at the time; and the Secretary to the Academy, Pellisson, in his report of this séance, after desiring judgment against Amyot to be deferred until the case against him be more fully proved, proceeds to say, that if, on the one hand, it be a lamentable thing that so excellent a man, after such an expenditure of time and pains on this work, could not avoid mistakes to the number of two thousand, on the other hand, it is a great consolation, that notwithstanding these two thousand errors, Amyot has so much oftener been right and happy in his translation, that, at any rate, and despite all drawbacks, he has not failed to acquire an immortal reputation.†
If Jacques Amyot, writes M. Demogeot, was "only a translator," he was yet a translator of genius: he occupies the first place in a secondary class. The same critic speaks of Amyot as having in some sort created Plutarch-"he has given him to us more true, more complete than nature had made him. The naïf and somewhat credulous Boeotian had been cast, by chance of birth, in the refined but corrupt age of Hadrian. To express his straightforward, simple thoughts, he had nothing but the laboured, learned idiom of the Alexandrians. Hence a continual discord in his numerous writings: his mind and his language are not of the same century. Amyot re-established the harmony, and, thanks to him, the pupil of Ammonius becomes again le bonhomme Plutarch." And then M. Demogeot dilates on the good fortune this "creation" was for France-as it not only enriched the language by the happy necessity of finding expression for so many true and noble conceptions, but proved a potent auxiliary towards reviving the ideas of antiquity.
Opinions differ materially, however, respecting the naïveté of Plutarch and his translator. Let us consult two or three, of modern date and accredited authority, more or less. M. Chasles pronounces Amyot's choice of Plutarch a happy one, for the language employed by Amyot agreed with the character of the original author: la tournure d'esprit du traducteur lent itself so fitly to express the thoughts and reproduce the style of Plutarch, that not unfrequently the almoner of Bellosane and the writer of Charonæa seem lost in one: you are tempted to believe that Amyot, turned into Plutarch, is speaking to you in his own name. This harmony of style and ideas, M. Chasles continues, "in spite of the common enough inaccuracy of Amyot's renderings, and the prodigious abundance of his style, made and preserves his renown. Never was translator more intimately associated with his model; yet
* Tableau de la Poésie Française, etc., au XVI® Siècle, par Sainte-Beuve, 407. † Pellisson, Hist. de l'Acad. Française.
Demogeot, Hist. de la Litt. Française, ch. xxiii.
never, even in this metamorphosis, does the national genius forsake him." "Amyot invents with taste: what he draws from the Greek is still French; his turns, his periods have invariably the mark of our idiom. So felicitously does he blend Greek phrases with his French, that he seems to be restoring to us what he is giving us, and to be finding again what he is in fact borrowing."*
M. de Sacy shall be our next commentator. He prefaces his estimate of Amyot by a bird's-eye review of old French translations and translators in general; and asks, what is become of them all, celebrated as once they were? Who reads Patru now-o'-days? Who reads the Tacitus of Pierre d'Ablancourt, the Horace of Dacier, the Quintus Curtius of Vaugelas? Amyot's predecessors and contemporaries are, all of them, fallen into uttermost oblivion, or something very like it: the Selves, the Seyssels, the Louis Leroys, and similar names, useful and modest labourers in their day, who were the first to open to an unlettered public the treasures of Greek and Latin antiquity,-all, all are gone, those once familiar faces. "Amyot alone continues popular. His Plutarch is for ever the Plutarch of the public. Not only is Amyot read, but beloved; and it is just upon three centuries now that this popularity has lasted, without variation. The gaulois of the bonhomme has brought trouble on all who have tried, since his day, to translate the Greek author. The secret is, that Amyot is something more than a clever translator and excellent writer. No doubt there is infinite grace in his old-fashioned diction; he is the father of French prose; he has enriched it with a crowd of picturesque expressions and happy idioms; to him it is indebted for cadence and period. And yet, with all these qualities, some of which are those of the age itself, and pertain to the youth of the language, Amyot might have grown old and out of date like so many others, had he not depicted himself in his manner of writing-had not whatever came from his pen borne the impress of his character, and, so to speak, his physiognomy. What one loves in the works of Amyot, in his translations of Heliodorus and Longus, just as in his Plutarch, is that Amyot is there in person. His style would seem to be but the exponent and mirror of his soul. This naif, amiable style reflects the native goodness of the man, and the wealth of fair imagery Amyot bore about with him in his heart of hearts. Accordingly, it might almost be said that in this case by unique privilege, the translator is become the original author; Amyot has not taken Plutarch's physiognomy, but given him his own. This may be unfaithful, if you list, but the unfaithfulness is of a kind the Greek author would not, I think, have much reason to complain of. As for us ignorants, we are unable, for our part, to figure to ourselves any other Plutarch than Amyot's. In vain will savants protest; we may let them talk on. We will give them full leave to have a Plutarch of their own, but we will keep ours. Theirs will be a great painter, but a hard writer; profound as a moralist, but sometimes, too, a rhetorician and sophist. Theirs will be the real Plutarch, granted; the Plutarch of Charonæa, so be it. The Plutarch we mean to keep shall be the Plutarch-rather too much addicted to prattling, perhaps,—of the sixteenth century, but so good-fellow-like and charming in his babble, so full of
* Philarète Chasles, Le XVIo Siècle en France, 1. ii. § 3.
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