Bonaventure des Périers  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Bonaventure des Périers (c. 1501 – 1544) was a French author.

He was born of a noble family at Arnay-le-duc in Burgundy at the end of the fifteenth century.

The circumstances of his education are sketchy, but it is known that he was attached to various noble houses in the capacity of tutor. En 1533 or 1534 Des Périers visited Lyon, then the most enlightened town of France, and a refuge for many liberal scholars who might elsewhere have had to suffer for their opinions. He gave some assistance to Robert Olivetan and Lefèvre d'Etaples in the preparation of the vernacular version of the Old Testament, and to Etienne Dolet in the Commentarii linguae latinae.

In 1536 he put himself under the protection of Marguerite d'Angoulême, queen of Navarre, who made him her valet de chambre. He acted as the queen's secretary, and transcribed the Heptaméron for her. It is probable that his duties extended beyond those of a mere copyist, and some writers have gone so far as to say that the Heptaméron was his work.

The free discussions permitted at Marguerite's court encouraged a licence of thought as displeasing to the Calvinists as to the Catholics. This free inquiry became scepticism in Bonaventure's Cymbalum Mundi (1537) and the queen of Navarre thought it prudent to disavow the author, though she continued to help him privately until 1541. The book consisted of four dialogues in imitation of Lucian. Its allegorical form did not conceal its real meaning, and, when it was printed by Morin, probably early in 1538, the Sorbonne secured the suppression of the edition before it was offered for sale.

The dedication provides a key to the author's intention: Thoaizas du Clevier (or Clenier) a son ami Pierre Tryocan was recognized by 19th century editors to be an anagram for Thomas l'Incrédule a son ami Pierre Croyant. The book was reprinted in Paris in the same year, It made many bitter enemies for the author. Henri Estienne called it detestable, and Étienne Pasquier said it deserved to be thrown into the fire with its author if he were still living.

Des Périers prudently left Paris, and after some wanderings settled at Lyon, where he lived in poverty, until in 1544 he put an end to his existence by falling on his sword. In 1544 his collected works were printed at Lyon. The volume, Recueil des Œuvres de feu Bonaventure des Périers, included his poems, which are of small merit, the Traité des quatre venus cardinales après Sénèque, and a translation of the Lysis of Plato.

In 1558 appeared at Lyon the collection of stories and fables entitled the Nouvelles récréations et joyeux devis. It is on this work that the claim put forward for Des Périers as one of the early masters of French prose rests. Some of the tales are attributed to the editors, Nicholas Denisot and Jacques Peletier, but their share is certainly limited to the later ones. The book leaves something to be desired on the score of morality, but the stories never lack point and are models of simple, direct narration in the vigorous and picturesque French of the 16th century.

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