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...
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