Wednesday, February 08, 2012


Defence of Rural Amenities against Big Business

D.B. Wyndham Lewis, Ronsard (London: Sheed & Ward, 1944), pp. 264-265:
There is a curiously modern ring about one of Ronsard's business dossiers, now in the municipal archives at Tours. A certain Fortin is trying to acquire some land owned by the monks of St. Cosme to extend his dye-factory, and already polluting the priory's waters. Ronsard points out to the municipal authorities of Tours2 that the said Fortin's chimneys and boilers will do nothing to benefit the local population and are not a public utility, as claimed, and the industrialist eventually, if I remember correctly, retires defeated. This is one of the earliest examples I know of the defence of rural amenities against Big Business. It is gratifying but not surprising to find Ronsard on the side of those gallant spirits waging endless and often fruitless war to-day to save what remains of rural England from defilement. That such things could happen in the Renaissance, and in Touraine, is interesting. On the one hand, all that craftsmanship in fine brick and stone and glass going up everywhere, august and gracious and lovely; on the other, the same kind of yahoo we know so well to-day, who would plant his chimneys in the island-valley of Avilion itself.

2 In a letter dictated to Amadis Jamyn.
This wasn't the only occasion on which Ronsard proved himself to be a proto-environmentalist (id., p. 272):
It is about this time, during a visit to his nephew, possibly, or to Croixval, that Ronsard is seized with anger on seeing the axe at work in his beloved forest of Gastine. The woodmen of Henri de Bourbon, Duke of Vendôme, now King of Navarre, are converting a few acres of noble timber into a diamond necklace for some Paris mopsy (or, as Martellière more charitably deduces, into ready cash to pay some of the creditors of Henri's late extravagant mother, Jeanne d'Albret. The forest was sold in 1573, the year after her death). The outrage is sharp and personal to Ronsard. The tall oaks of Gastine, of which his forebears were so long wardens, have always been to the poet gentle living friends, counsellors, comforters, breathing memories of childhood's happiness, haunted by the kindly nymphs and dryads of Home.
Lewis continues to discuss this episode for a couple more pages, too much to transcribe. See also my post on Ronsard and the Forest of Gâtine.

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