1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/La Sale, Antoine de

LA SALE (or La Salle), ANTOINE DE (c. 1388–1462?), French writer, was born in Provence, probably at Arles. He was a natural son of Bernard de la Salle[1] a famous soldier of fortune, who served many masters, among others the Angevin dukes. In 1402 Antoine entered the court of Anjou, probably as a page, and in 1407 he was at Messina with Duke Louis II., who had gone there to enforce his claim to the kingdom of Sicily. The next years he perhaps spent in Brabant, for he was present at two tournaments given at Brussels and Ghent. With other gentlemen from Brabant, whose names he has preserved, he took part in the expedition of 1415 against the Moors, organized by John I. of Portugal. In 1420 he accompanied Louis III. on another expedition to Naples, making in that year an excursion from Norcia to the Monte della Sibilla, and the neighbouring Lake of Pilate. The story of his adventures on this occasion, and an account, with some sceptical comments, of the local legends regarding Pilate, and the Sibyl’s grotto,[2] form the most interesting chapter of La Salade, which is further adorned with a map of the ascent from Montemonaco. La Sale probably returned with Louis III. of Anjou, who was also comte de Provence, in 1426 to Provence, where he was acting as viguier of Arles in 1429. In 1434 René, Louis’s successor, made La Sale tutor to his son Jean d’Anjou, duc de Calabre, to whom he dedicated, between the years 1438 and 1447, his La Salade, which is a text-book of the studies necessary for a prince. The primary intention of the title is no doubt the play on his own name, but he explains it on the ground of the miscellaneous character of the book—a salad is composed “of many good herbs.” In 1439 he was again in Italy in charge of the castle of Capua, with the duc de Calabre and his young wife, Marie de Bourbon, when the place was besieged by the king of Aragon. René abandoned Naples in 1442, and Antoine no doubt returned to France about the same time. His advice was sought at the tournaments which celebrated the marriage of the unfortunate Margaret of Anjou at Nancy in 1445; and in 1446, at a similar display at Saumur, he was one of the umpires. La Sale’s pupil was now twenty years of age, and, after forty years’ service of the house of Anjou, La Sale left it to become tutor to the sons of Louis de Luxembourg, comte de Saint Pol, who took him to Flanders and presented him at the court of Philippe le Bon, duke of Burgundy. For his new pupils he wrote at Châtelet-sur-Oise, in 1451, a moral work entitled La Salle.

He was nearly seventy years of age when he wrote the work that has made him famous, L’Hystoire et plaisante cronicque du petit Jehan de Saintré et de la jeune dame des Belles-Cousines, Sans autre nom nommer, dedicated to his former pupil, Jean de Calabre. An envoi in MS. 10,057 (nouv. acq. fr.) in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, states that it was completed at Châtelet on the 6th of March 1455 (i.e. 1456). La Sale also announces an intention, never fulfilled, apparently, of writing a romance of Paris et Vienne. The MSS. of Petit Jehan de Saintré usually contain in addition Floridam et Elvide, translated by Rasse de Brunhamel from the Latin of Nicolas de Clamange, and dedicated to La Sale; also Addiction extraite des Cronicques de Flandres, of which only a few lines are original. Brunhamel says in his dedication that La Sale had delighted to write honourable histories from the time of his “florie jeunesse,” which confirms a reasonable inference from the style of Petit Jehan de Saintré that its author was no novice in the art of romance-writing. The Réconfort à Madame de Neufville, a consolatory epistle including two stories of parental fortitude, was written at Vendeuil-sur-Oise about 1458, and in 1459 La Sale produced his treatise Des anciens tournois et faictz d’armes and the Journée d’Onneur et de Prouesse. He followed his patron to Genappe in Brabant when the Dauphin (afterwards Louis XI.) took refuge at the Burgundian court.

La Sale is generally accepted as the author of one of the most famous satires in the French language, Les Quinze Joyes de mariage, because his name has been disengaged from an acrostic at the end of the Rouen MS. He is also supposed to have been the “acteur” in the collection of licentious stories supposed to be narrated by various persons at the court of Philippe le Bon, and entitled the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles. One only of the stories is given in his name, but he is credited with the compilation of the whole, for which Louis XI. was long held responsible. A completed copy of this was presented to the Duke of Burgundy at Dijon in 1462. If then La Sale was the author, he probably was still living; otherwise the last mention of him is in 1461.

Petit Jehan de Saintré gives, at the point when the traditions of chivalry were fast disappearing, an account of the education of an ideal knight and rules for his conduct under many different circumstances. When Petit Jehan, aged thirteen, is persuaded by the Dame des Belles-Cousines to accept her as his lady, she gives him systematic instruction in religion, courtesy, chivalry and the arts of success. She materially advances his career until Saintré becomes an accomplished knight, the fame of whose prowess spreads throughout Europe. This section of the romance—apparently didactic in intention—fits in with the author’s other works of edification. But in the second part this virtuous lady falls a victim to a vulgar intrigue with Damp Abbé. One of La Sale’s commentators, M. Joseph Nève, ingeniously maintains that the last section is simply to show how the hero, after passing through the other grades of education, learns at last by experience to arm himself against coquetry. The book may, however, be fairly regarded as satirizing the whole theory of “courteous” love, by the simple method of fastening a repulsive conclusion on an ideal case. The contention that the fabliau-like ending of a romance begun in idyllic fashion was due to the corrupt influences of the Dauphin’s exiled court, is inadmissible, for the last page was written when the prince arrived in Brabant in 1456. That it is an anti-clerical satire seems unlikely. The profession of the seducer is not necessarily chosen from that point of view. The language of the book is not disfigured by coarseness of any kind, but, if the brutal ending was the expression of the writer’s real views, there is little difficulty in accepting him as the author of the Quinze Joyes de mariage and the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles.—Both these are masterpieces in their way and exhibit a much greater dramatic power and grasp of dialogue than does Petit Jehan. Some light is thrown on the romance by the circumstances of the duc de Calabre, to whom it was dedicated. His wife, Marie de Bourbon, was one of the “Belles-Cousines” who contended for the favour of Jacques or Jacquet de Lalaing in the Livre des faits de Jacques Lalaing which forms the chief source of the early exploits of Petit Jehan.

The incongruities of La Sale’s aims appear in his method of construction. The hero is not imaginary. Jehan de Saintré flourished in the Hundred Years’ War, was taken prisoner after Poitiers, with the elder Boucicaut, and was employed in negotiating the treaty of Bretigny. Froissart mentioned him as “le meilleur et le plus vaillant chevalier de France.” His exploits as related in the romance are, however, founded on those of Jacques de Lalaing (c. 1422–1453), who was brought up at the Burgundian court, and became such a famous knight that he excited the rivalry of the “Belles-Cousines,” Marie de Bourbon and Marie de Clèves, duchesse d’Orléans. Lalaing’s exploits are related by more than one chronicler, but M. Gustave Raynaud thinks that the Livre des faits de Jacques de Lalaing, published among the works of Georges Chastelain, to which textual parallels may be found in Petit Jehan, should also be attributed to La Sale, who in that case undertook two accounts of the same hero, one historical and the other fictitious. To complicate matters, he drew, for the later exploits of Petit Jehan, on the Livres des faits de Jean Boucicaut, which gives the history of the younger Boucicaut. The atmosphere of the book is not the rough realities of the English wars in which the real Saintré figured but that of the courts to which La Sale was accustomed.

The title of Les Quinze Joyes de mariage is, with a profanity characteristic of the time, borrowed from a popular litany, Les Quinze Joies de Notre Dame, and each chapter terminates with a liturgical refrain voicing the miseries of marriage. Evidence in favour of La Sale’s authorship is brought forward by M. E. Gossart (Bibliophile belge, 1871, pp. 83-7), who quotes from his didactic treatise of La Salle a passage paraphrased from St Jerome’s treatise against Jovinian which contains the chief elements of the satire. Gaston Paris (Revue de Paris, Dec. 1897) expressed an opinion that to find anything like the malicious penetration by which La Sale divines the most intimate details of married life, and the painful exactness of the description, it is necessary to travel as far as Balzac. The theme itself was common enough in the middle ages in France, but the dialogue of the Quinze Joyes is unusually natural and pregnant. Each of the fifteen vignettes is perfect in its kind. There is no redundance. The diffuseness of romance is replaced by the methods of the writers of the fabliaux.

In the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles the Italian novella is naturalized in France. The book is modelled on the Decameron of Boccaccio, and owes something to the Latin Facetiae of the contemporary scholar Poggio; but the stories are rarely borrowed, and in cases where the Nouvelles have Italian parallels they appear to be independent variants. In most cases the general immorality of the conception is matched by the grossness of the details, but the ninety-eighth story narrates what appears to be a genuine tragedy, and is of an entirely different nature from the other contes. It is another version of the story of Floridam et Elvide already mentioned. Not content with allowing these achievements to La Sale, some critics have proposed to ascribe to him also the farce of Maître Pathelin.

The best editions of La Sale’s undoubted and reputed works are:—Petit Jehan de Saintré by J. M. Guichard (1843); Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles by Thomas Wright (Bibl. elzévérienne, 1858); Les Quinze Joyes de mariage by P. Jannet (Bibl. elzév., 1857). La Salade was printed more than once during the 16th century. La Salle was never printed. For its contents see E. Gossart in the Bibliophile belge (1871, pp. 77 et seq.). See also the authorities quoted above, and Joseph Nėve, Antoine de la Salle, sa vie et ses ouvrages . . . suivi du Réconfort de Madame de Fresne . . . et de fragments et documents inédits (1903), who argues for the rejection of Les Quinze Joyes and the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles from La Sale’s works; Pietro Toldo, Contributo allo studio della novella francese del XV e XVI secolo (1895), and a review of it by Gaston Paris in the Journal des Savants (May 1895); L. Stern, “Versuch über Antoine de la Salle,” in Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen, vol. xlvi.; and G. Raynaud, “Un Nouveau Manuscrit du Petit Jehan de Saintré,” in Romania, vol. xxxi.  (M. Br.) 

  1. For his career, see Paul Durrieu, Les Gascons en Italie (Auch, 1885, pp. 107-71).
  2. For the legend of the Sibyl current in Italy at the time, given by La Sale, and its inter-relation with the Tannhäuser story, see W. Soederhjelm, “A. de la Salle et la légende de Tannhäuser” in Mémoires de la soc. néo-philologique d’Helsingfors (1897, vol. ii.); and Gaston Paris, “Le Paradis de la Reine Sibylle,” and “La Légende du Tannhäuser,” in the Revue de Paris (Dec. 1897 and March 1898).