Sonnets chrétiens sur divers sujets
The Huguenot contribution to French literature and spirituality remains markedly under-studied. With the exception of the subtle ideologue who was their founder (Calvin) and their most extravagant epic poet (d'Aubigné), I doubt if any of their works features on a syllabus today. Yet I distantly recall that Calvinist writing was once an option in the MML Schools in Oxford, and it would fittingly adorn the teaching programme of a Scottish university. The Huguenots very quickly evolved specialist dynasties and, by the mid-seventeenth century, the Drelincourts had become one such in the field of preaching and belles lettres. Charles Drelincourt, Minister at the central temple at Charenton under Louis XIII, had half a dozen of his sermons printed (as the editor of this book would know if, instead of relying on the inaccurate nineteenth-century Haag brothers' France protestante or Pannier's pre-War works, he had consulted the catalogue in my own French Pulpit Oratory). Laurent Drelincourt was his son, and became the pastor first of La Rochelle then of Niort. He too was a published preacher, albeit a minor one, and we owe to Julien Gœury an edition of his sermons (2002). Now it is the turn of his poetry, several times published in the 1670s with the final edition as a recueil in 1677. It was reissued in 1680 and is thus the swansong of literary French Protestantism before the apocalypse of the Revocation in 1685 silenced or dispersed that community in Louis XIV's own despotic and murderous version of the 'final solution' — a crime alas often unremarked by the increasing number of ahistorical dix-septiémistes who inanely perceive later seventeenth-century literature purely as a kind of icing on the cake of Versailles.
The poet seems to have shared with his Protestant contemporary John Milton a fondness for numerology and intricate organization. The sonnets are arranged in [End Page 394] four books, the first two with thirty-nine poems apiece, the second two with forty-one. The thematic arrangement is not quite so neat. Book ii on subjects drawn from the Old Testament balances Book iii on subjects from the New, but the first book is on Nature and her Creator, and Book iv on 'diverses grâces et divers états'. His style is that of an older generation — Voiture, Racan, Benserade or Godeau would have recognized their influence — and he seeks to instruct by pleasing rather than by stirring. For the English reader, the notion of Christian madrigals would place him neatly. This is not, then, a major discovery like that of Alan Boase of Sponde or Herbert Grierson's of George Herbert. But it is a useful extension of what Terence Cave has called devotional poetry into a later French period, and to Drelincourt's own annotation of his work Gœury has added a thorough and learned apparatus of notes. Our New World colleagues would be particularly struck by sonnet 7 of Book i, 'Sur la Découverte du Nouveau Monde', with its reminder of the eighth-century papal excommunication of Vigilius for having taught the existence of the antipodes.