THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY
This century is perhaps the most important in the history of the French language. During that time there was impressed upon it that official stamp of academic regulation which has given it a character unique in Europe.
We have seen that evidences of a reaction against the enrichment tactics of the Renaissance were already visible in the sixteenth century, but the troubled history of the nation precluded any serious continuity in that direction or, for that matter, any extensive pre- occupation with such matters. It was only with the advent of a more settled policy and social order that the forces of conservatism could operate.
For many years the court had followed the Valois kings around France. In 1600 it was permanently established at Paris, which thus became a more stable cultural focus, displacing in that capacity the valley of the Loire. Paris gathered increasingly the elite of the country and assumed more and more importance as a center of beau langage. The nucleus that formed around the monarch was comparatively small, but compact and homogeneous, a closely knit clannish body jealous of its social privileges. The result of this situation is something utterly strange to an American of the present day, the possibility of a single strong spirit being able to sway that small group and, through the centralized might of royalty, all that counted in the entire nation. Only in such a manner can we thoroughly account for the extraordinarily swift success of a man like Malherbe.
Malherbe was fifty years old when he came from his native Normandy to take a position at court. Of his disagreeable combative nature, his lack of lyric warmth, we need not speak here, since any history of literature will give the necessary information on his char-