- DU BARTAS, Guillaume de Salluste, Seigneur
Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas was an important Huguenot poet, statesman, and warrior. His most famous work, La premiere semaine ou la creation du monde (1578), is an epic poem recounting the Genesis creation story. It was translated into several languages and influenced the writings of authors such as John Milton, Sir Philip Sidney,* and Torquato Tasso.*Du Bartas was born in Montfort, near Auch, in Gascony, into a rich merchant family. In 1563-64 he began his law studies at Toulouse at the same time that he pursued his poetic proclivities. In 1565 he won a prize in the Jeux floraux, an annual poetry competition in existence since the fourteenth century. That same year his father, Joseph Sallustre, purchased the chateau and domain of Bartas, thus acquiring a noble title of sieur Du Bartas. Upon the father's death in 1566, Du Bartas inherited the domain and title. A year later Du Bartas obtained his doctor of law degree and by 1571 had refurbished his chateau, had married Catherine de Manas, a young noblewoman from his province, and had bought himself a judgeship in Montfort.Under the protection of Jeanne d'Albret* (daughter of Marguerite de Navarre* and mother of Henri de Navarre, who would become King Henri IV of France), Du Bartas continued his literary aspirations. Asked by the Protestant queen to write poetry of biblical inspiration, Du Bartas turned away from the themes of pagan antiquity so favored by Pldiade poets such as Pierre de Ronsard.* He produced instead works of epic proportion designed to bear witness to God's glory as it manifests itself in the universe. No longer construed as an amusing diversion, poetry for Du Bartas became a didactic enterprise designed to lead his readers to a life of righteousness and to propound the doctrines of the Huguenot faith. His first moral epic poem was La Judit, based on the biblical story of Judith and Holofernes. In 1574 that poem, along with Le triomphe de la foi and Uranie, was published in Bordeaux in a collection called La muse chrétienne. In his preface Du Bartas proclaims himself the first French writer to deal with sacred matter in a long poem.Du Bartas's fame blossomed further with the 1578 publication in Paris of La premiere semaine ou la création du monde. Its hexameric theme takes the form of a series of long poems, each describing the successive days of the creation of the world as recounted in Genesis. An encyclopedic inventory of the abundance and variety of nature, La premiere semaine can be read as a compendium of knowledge of the world and man. The 65,000-verse poem offers a vast storehouse of information on topics such as astrology, scientific and philosophical questions of the day, and notions of what constitutes a good king. By 1584 more than twenty-five editions had been published, and the work was translated into many languages. Du Bartas's fame became so great that for a period of time it threatened to outstrip Ronsard's. Detractors of Du Bartas point to a writing style characterized by digressions, neologisms, bizarre metaphors, and violent imagery. Modern critics often describe his style as baroque. In 1584 the first two days of La seconde semaine ou enfance du monde were published in Paris. Intended to represent the history of humanity up to the Last Judgment, the long poem remained incomplete. When the final version was published posthumously in 1603, it contained only four days.Du Bartas greatly influenced the English Renaissance vogue for biblically inspired poetry. His work was enthusiastically received, and many English translations followed. They included those by Thomas Hudson (Historie of Judith, 1584), James VI* (Urania, 1584), and Joshua Sylvester (The Triumph of Faith, 1592). In 1608 Sylvester published a complete translation of the first and second Semaines. John Milton was a reader of Du Bartas, and phrases from the Semaines can be found in Paradise Lost.Du Bartas entered public life in 1576. In 1586 he was in the service of the king of Navarre, and his diplomatic missions included travels to England, Scotland, and Denmark. In Scotland he was received warmly by James VI and was knighted by him in 1587. Although Du Bartas was more moderate than other Huguenots, he fought as an officer in the Wars of Religion. Several weeks after writing a poem celebrating the victory at Ivry (Cantique d'Ivry, 1590), he fought against the Catholic League at Condom and died of wounds sustained in previous battles.BibliographyM. P. Hagiwara, French Epic Poetry in the Sixteenth Century: Theory and Practice, 1972.A. Prescott, French Poets and the English Renaissance: Studies in Fame and Transformation, 1978.D. B. Wilson, ed., French Renaissance Scientific Poetry, 1974.Dora E. Polachek
Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. Jo Eldridge Carney. 2001.