This book makes available to those interested in the field of sixteenth-century French poetry a collection of verse which only survives in the great collections of Paris libraries. Nicolas Filleul was one of the host of minor French poets who flourished in the second half of the sixteenth century, in the years following the publication of Du Bellay's "Deffence et illustration de la langue francoise" (1549) and the first of "Ronsard's odes" (1550). The 117 sonnets of Filleul's "Discours", his first collection of verse, are edited here for the first time since their publication in Rouen in 1560. The interest of the sonnets lies in their considerable thematic range and in the way they relate to the poetic production of Filleul's predecessors and contemporaries. The dominant inspiration behind the "Discours" is clearly Du Bellay's "Regrets et autres oeuvres poetiques", the collection of elegiac, satirical and eulogistic sonnets which caused its author so many difficulties when he arranged for its appearance in print after his return from Rome in 1557. Filleul's "Discours" is thus significant for two reasons.
Not only does it imitate a model in the vernacular, at a time when such practice met with general disapproval, but it also, in the manner of the Regrets, exploits the flexibility of the sonnet, a form relatively new to the French poetic tradition, in order to comment on a range of subjects, personal, political and moral. In contrast with the "Regrets", however, Filleul's collection also includes love sonnets; here, his models are principally Ronsard's Amours of 1552 and the petrarchan tradition which inspired them. The introduction to Hartley's edition locates the "Discours" in the context of Filleul's poetic production. (His best known verse, the "Theatres de Gaillon", pastoral dramas composed for the visit of King Charles IX to the chateau of the Cardinal of Bourbon in 1566, were published in 1971.) The extensive critical apparatus which accompanies the text of each sonnet consists firstly of a summary of its content and indications of possible sources, and secondly of notes designed to facilitate the comprehension and appreciation of the sonnets. The original version of the "Discours" is often poorly printed.
Many of the notes in the current edition therefore suggest explanations of the text and, on occasion, tentative corrections of unclear passages. Careful scholarship elucidates the meaning of mythological allusions, which are not infrequently obscure. The historical background to those sonnets which comment on contemporary events is provided. The parallels with Du Bellay's "Regrets" are diligently set out, as are Filleul's borrowings from Latin poets, notably Horace for the moral reflections to be found in many of the sonnets, and Ovid for the mythological illustrations of Filleul's themes. There are indications of Filleul's borrowings from other poets of classical antiquity, including his paraphrases of Martial and Claudian, and from French and Italian poets of his own century. Filleul's knowledge of Ariosto's "Orlando Furioso" appears to have been extensive; interestingly, the epic illustrates a number of his moral observations as well as providing material for his amatory and erotic sonnets. There is a comprehensive index. This volume, with its clear text and careful annotation, is a welcome addition to our stock of critical editions of French poets of the Renaissance.
Our appreciation of the major poets of the period is augmented by greater familiarity with their less gifted, though not untalented, contemporaries. As well as bringing to our attention a hitherto neglected collection of verse, it also enables readers, specialists and non-specialists alike, to understand more fully the debts which poets like Filleul owed to their masters.