François de Malherbe Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

François Malherbe (mah-lehrb) was the official court poet of Henri IV and Louis XIII. His poetry and doctrine established the rules of poetic composition in his time and became the standard for French classical literature. He was the eldest son of François de Malherbe and Louise de Valois. The family belonged to the noblesse de robe (court nobility); his father held the position of councillor of the inferior court at Caen. Expecting his son to take up the profession of law and eventually to succeed him in his office, Malherbe’s father sent him to study at the universities in Basel and Heidelberg. Malherbe, however, had little predilection for the law and, upon finishing his studies, became secretary to Henri d’Angoulême, grand prieur of France and governor of Provence, and followed him to Aix-en-Provence in 1576. The young Malherbe had aspirations for a military career, but military glory was not to be his, although he was invested as a soldier in September, 1577. With the exception of two brief stays in Normandy, he lived in Aix until 1605. He married Madeleine de Coriolis in October, 1581. Henri d’Angoulême was killed in a duel in 1586, and Malherbe returned to Caen. In 1587, he began his career as a poet with an imitation of a work of Luigi Tansillo, Les Larmes de Saint Pierre (the tears of Saint Peter). He later denied having composed this poem. In 1590, he wrote his best-known poem, Consolation à Monsieur du Périer sur la mort de sa fille (consolation to Mr. du Périer on the death of his daughter). In 1595 he returned to Aix and the following year composed an ode to Henri IV on the capture of Marseilles. Then, in 1600, he offered an ode to Marie de Medici, who had arrived in France to become the queen of Henri IV.

Although Malherbe had been living away from the court and had written only about fifteen poems, he had come to the attention of several individuals who were influential at court. Cardinal Jacques Davy du Perron was a Calvinist converted to...

(The entire section is 828 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

François Malherbe received his early education in his native Caen. When he was sixteen, he was sent by his father, newly converted to Protestantism, to study in Germany for two years. In 1577, Malherbe became the secretary of Henri d’Angoulême, illegitimate son of Henry II, and, glad to get away from his father’s extreme Protestantism, which he loathed, followed his new master to Provence, where the young prince was to assume the role of governor. A devoted political servant, Malherbe was to remain with his master in the south of France for nearly ten years. There, he married the daughter of a local président and, except for a preliminary piece written for a colleague’s poem, gave little indication of having literary aspirations. In 1586, Malherbe and his wife were back in Caen when his master was assassinated in Aix. The following year, Malherbe was in Paris, where he presented his first major poem, Les Larmes de Saint Pierre (the tears of Saint Peter), to King Henry III; he was given a sizable financial reward, but not the pension or post he had sought. In 1594, he was elected alderman of Caen, but this duty did not keep him from spending more of the next ten years in his wife’s native province—particularly in its dazzling capital, Aix—than in his native Normandy. He was in Aix in 1600 when the new Queen, Marie de Médicis, on her way to meet Henry IV, whom she had married by proxy, stopped in that city. A member of the welcoming party, Malherbe presented her...

(The entire section is 612 words.)