The Less naughty work of Théophile de Viau

Sometimes, the organization of the Saint-Sulpice Collection makes for interesting juxtapositions.  I mentioned in a previous post how the FRC pamphlets enable readers to piece together the stories of these, occasionally insignificant, historical figures.  The subject-based organization of Saint-Sulpice makes piecing these stories together even easier (as I touched on in my previous post regarding Louis IX). This time around I have a series of nine pamphlets on a more obscure individual, famed writer of blue poetry Théophile de Viau.  Viau was celebrated during his life, surpassing even Maleherbe as the most popular poet of 17th century France, but for reasons explained below, was largely ignored once classicism took hold in France until a brief rediscovery during the Romantic period instigated by swashbuckler author Théophile Gautier.

The pamphlets concerning Théophile de Viau represented in the Saint-Sulpice Collection pick up after his imprisonment and exile from France by Louis XII.  Viau’s relationship with the powers-that-be in France was complicated. One of the original libertines, Théophile de Viau was even more controversial than his contemporaries due to his Huguenot background. He fought against the French monarchy during the Protestant revolts of the early 17th century, but was pardoned and became a famed poet at the French court. This acceptance lasted less than five years, and Viau was officially banished in 1619. He left for England, only to be un-banished in 1620 when he returned to Paris only to be denounced by the Jesuits in 1623 and sentenced to being burned alive.  Viau prudently decided not to appear before Notre Dame as the Jesuits demanded, and after attempting to flee to England was captured and thrown in the Conciergerie. This point is where the Saint-Sulpice Collection begins to chronicle Viau’s life.

Case folio BX4060.A1 .S25 ser. 1 v. 75 no. 5

Uniquely, these pamphlets (many written by Viau himself or at least published under his name) are predominantly poetic in nature, and despite the controversy surrounding the sexually explicit and often heretical content of his work, the Sulpitians seem to have collected only pamphlets published in support of Viau.  (I’ll leave an analysis of why this might have been the case to the reader’s imagination) These poems are generally entreaties to the King, insisting that Viau has changed his ways, accepted Catholicism, and now understands that it was inappropriate to write so many naughty verses.

Case folio BX4060.A1 .S25 ser. 1 v. 75 no. 9

One rather interesting item amongst these pamphlets concerning Théophile de Viau is one written in response to his “apologetic” poetry by Tircis, a pseudonym of an as-yet unidentified friend of Théophile (Case folio BX4060.A1 .S25 ser. 1 v. 75 no. 9). This item expresses concern that Viau is more concerned with his own entertainment than he is with actually defending himself or getting out of prison.  Unfortunately, this item is incomplete. Indeed, the situation concerning Viau’s imprisonment was deadly serious: Jesuit François Garasse was attempting to prove that Viau’s poems contained coded references to homosexuality, an offense that could have incurred the death penalty.

Ultimately, Garasse’s efforts were unsuccessful, and support for Viau from other influential thinkers increased, spurring many of the pamphlets collected at the Newberry on the subject. Viau was permanently exiled from Paris in 1625 and died only one year later. His irreverent poetry was not well received by the classicists, and thus languished in obscurity until the romantic period.

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