François L’Hermite was born in the old castle of Soliers in 1601. It was not until much later that he assumed the name “Tristan” to call attention to his illustrious ancestry. He was barely three when he was taken to Paris, and, sometime before 1609, he became the page of the duc de Verneuil, son of the king. One day, having wounded someone in a fit of anger, he ran away from the court, took refuge in England, and eventually returned to France by way of Scotland and Norway—if one is to believe his account in Le Page disgracié. In the years that ensued, he had many masters, including Nicolas de Sainte-Marthe, a poet and dramatist, and that man’s more famous uncle, Scévole de Sainte-Marthe. Reader and librarian of Scévole, Tristan expanded his literary horizons and acquired a taste for poetry he was to keep the rest of his days. In 1620, he entered the royal household and one year later became attached to the person of Gaston d’Orléans, the rebellious young brother of Louis XIII, whose political embroilments and misfortunes he shared for nearly twenty-five years. His steadfast loyalty to his volatile master was not reciprocated, and Tristan, an incorrigible gambler, was constantly buffeted by alternating waves of good and bad fortune. Add to that chronic bad health, and his vacillations between elation and despondency are easily understood.
During the first ten years at the court of Gaston, Tristan followed his master in and out of exile. In such turmoil, the composition of works of any breadth was out of the question. Tristan did, however, write some superior occasional poetry and, above all, Les Plaintes d’Acante, one of the finest lyric collections of the century and the nucleus of the later—and equally successful—Les Amours de...
(The entire section is 733 words.)