Vaugelas and the Development of the French Language

Vaugelas and the Development of the French Language

Vaugelas and the Development of the French Language

Vaugelas and the Development of the French Language

Excerpt

Neither Vaugelas's origin nor his character seem to render him a likely candidate to act as an authority on the French language. Claude Favre de Vaugelas was born in Meximieux in 1585 and spent most of his early life in Savoy, which was not finally incorporated into France until 1860. The French he would have heard as a child would therefore have been full of the regionalisms of which he was so critical in later life. Ménage, a close contemporary of Vaugelas, underlines the incongruity 'Qu'un étranger et Savoyard/ Fasse le procès à Ronsard', and Voiture relates the amusing anecdote of how he managed to pass through a Spanish garrison by pretending to be from Savoy and imitating Vaugelas's 'mauvais accent'. As for his character, Vaugelas is described by his contemporaries as being modest, nervous, deferential to the point of timidity and rather gullible. Bouhours portrays an honest and devout man who doubted his judgement to the extent that 'bien loin de se croire infaillible en fait de langage, il doutoit de tout jusques à ce qu'il eust consulté ceux qu'il estimoit plus sçavans que luy'. 3 Yet by 1634 Vaugelas had become a member of the newly-formed French Academy to which he presented his Observations in 1637 and had established himself in the polite society of the salons.

While such success is largely inexplicable, certain features of his home life and background were nevertheless favourable to this career. Vaugelas's father, Antoine Favre, a distinguished jurisconsult, Latin scholar, and author of a tragedy and of moral and religious verse, furnished his son with a good education, probably partly at the Jesuit college at Chambéry and partly under his own supervision. His father's position brought Claude into contact with such men of letters as Honoré d'Urfé and François de Sales, and afforded opportunities for travel. From 1599 to 1601 Vaugelas spent twenty months with his father in Rome where he familiarized himself with the Italian language and culture, met Méziriac, later to be a fellow member of the French Academy, and, according to Pellisson, produced 'quelques vers italiens qu'on estimoit beaucoup'. In 1601 he accompanied his father to Paris where he was probably introduced to the language and life-style of the Court for the first time. Perhaps more importantly, Vaugelas would have witnessed in the family home the founding of the 'Académie Florimontane' by his father and François de Sales in the winter of 1606-07. This Academy, based on the Italian model, is in many ways a forerunner of the French Academy, for it had about forty members . . .

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