Ode à Monseigneur le cardinal duc de Richelieu

Jean Chapelain, Paris, 1633 (Gallica, 1637)

Lister read this adulatory ode to Cardinal Richelieu by Chapelain in May 1665.  Jean Chapelain (1595-1674) was a successful critic who spent his life studying the rules of poetry. His own poetic works, particularly his epic poem about Joan of Arc, ‘La Pucelle’, were rather less successful.

Chapelain came to the attention of Richelieu with his preface to the Chevalier Marini’s poem, ‘Adone’, and Chapelain subsequently succeeded to the reputation of Malherbe after the death of that author.  It was ‘loudly published throughout all France’, that Chapelain was ‘the prince of the French Poets’. 1

Chapelain’s Ode to Richelieu seemed to confirm his promise, the writer Jean Guez de Balzac bestowing great praise upon these lines:

Qui brille sur sa route et gouverne ses voiles,

Cependant que la lune, accomplissant son tour

Dessus un char d’argent environné d’étoiles

Dans le sombre universe représente le jour

‘To tranquilize the modesty of Richelieu, who thinks he is indebted solely to the King his master for his knowledge and magnificence’, Chapelain compared him in his Ode to the pole-star, the guide to the pilot. 2

Bolstered by his success, and a substantive pension from Richelieu, Chapelain spent the next twenty years composing his epic ‘La Pucelle’.  Although a partial publication of the results proved disastrous, Chapelain was still respected as a man of letters, and he was appointed by the minister Colbert in 1663 to distribute the pensions bestowed by the King upon authors of merit. 3

As a respected critic, Chapelain would have been on the reading list of students like Lister who wished to understand current literary taste.  Chapelain was also a frequent correspondent of Lister’s favorite author Balzac.  Lister later donated an edition of their correspondence to Oxford.

  1. Adrien Baillet, Jugements de Savants sur les principaux Ouvrages des Auteurs . . . (Paris: Moette 1722), 7 vols in 4, vol. 5, 278.
  2. M. Guizot, Corneille and his Times (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1852), 244.
  3. Guizot, Corneille and his Times, 274.

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