François Villon’s LAIS (the “Little Testament” of early editors) is a youthful poem of bequests, ironic, equivocal, made to a very mixed group of acquaintances and enemies, whom the poet singled out for high-spirited mockery, sarcasm, insulting “gauloiserie” and spiteful attack because of their hostility or uncharitableness towards him. Each bequest fits its recipient’s position in society, or his weaknesses, or his treatment of the “povre Villon.” The difficulties of such a poem, written for the poet and his intimate friends, are obvious. However, it introduces the reader to the Villonesque manner and prepares him for the poet’s greater work.
Longnon and Vitu’s independent research into the archives and police records of Paris provided a major breakthrough in the understanding of Villon’s allusions, and consequently of the poet’s tone and manner. Yet we are still far from grasping all the innuendoes of the LAIS, nor can we be certain precisely when and why the poem was written. Almost certainly it was written shortly after Villon participated in a robbery of the College de Navarre at Christmas, 1456, his first grave, deliberate criminal act. Villon was then twenty-five, a maitre-es-arts of the University thanks to his foster father, the canon Guillaume Villon, had had a profitable career in the church open to him, and knew influential men, such as Robert d’Estouteville, Provost of Paris. Yet he, no victim of...
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