I. Prefatory Remarks - the Manuscript1
Looking through the subject indexes of any library catalog can net surprising results, and such a search for lemmata like hieroglyphs, emblems, or cryptography at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel led me to an interesting piece. Among the more recent additions to a group of manuscripts labelled "Extravagantes" (nomen est omen) (Otte 1987, 63, ms. No. 117.5 Extrav.), I discovered a rather unique collection of illustrated poems dated by the compiler of the Wolfenbüttel catalog to the "end of 16th/beginning of 17th century" and entitled, Livre d'Enigmes [sic] Par Jacques de Fonteny. The manuscript may indeed have been written around 1600, consists of 45 letter-size sheets of which 44 have a small square engraving printed on the upper part. A Wolfenbüttel specialist has identified them as possibly originating in "northern France, end of 16th/beginning of 17th century", which would support the catalog dating. Unfortunately, a possible engraver's mark on fol. 4 r° has so far defied identification; the paper mark, perhaps a (pascal) lamb with a crown on its head, is not listed in any of the reference works, either. Only 26 of the 44 engraved pages sport a French sonnet, which on most pages is written in an excellent hand and on occasion includes corrections both in the same and in a different writing, perhaps the author's. Fol. 1 v° bears a 26-line text—possibly a poem—written in the same hand as the substantive corrections in the sonnets and also hardly legible; next to it there is a monogram that the editor of the Wolfenbüttel catalog tentatively read as "J D F". The fact that only 26 sonnets accompany the 44 engravings—leaving 18 pictures without text—are written in what appears to be Italian handwriting in vogue in France at the end of the 16th century, however, does not necessarily invalidate the conjecture that the generally excellent writing would identify the manuscript as an incomplete printer's copy in which the author himself might have made corrections and intended to add further sonnets.
The identification of this collection with the Jacques de Fonteny listed on the cover—and possibly written in the hand of the professional scribe—along with the 3-letter monogram is supported by the publication in 1618 of one of the 26 sonnets listed in the manuscript's index as " cloches " (fol. 6 r°) in a collection entitled, Le Cabinet satyrique ou recueil des vers piquans et gaillards de ce temps (Cabinet 1924, 360-361).2 This publication—which his long-time friend Pierre de l'Estoille attributed to Fonteny—further supports Fonteny's authorship of the manuscript. The fact that this particular sonnet would be included in a collection highlighting not only satirical but also somewhat piquant and even racy poetic pieces—but was eliminated from a second, expanded edition one year later, perhaps because it could be seen as too (homo)sexually charged—should alert us to a general undertone of at least half of the sonnets of Fonteny's Livre d'Enigmes. Further proof of his authorship lies in a 1589 publication of a collection of verse poems "par I. de Fonteny. P." titled L’Ænigme dv Songe, which indicates his early interest in poetic enigmas.3
II. Jacques de Fonteny
Who, then, was this Fonteny? A recent publication overseen by Christian Biet on the Théâtre de la Cruauté et récits sanglants en France (XVIe-XVIIe siècle) (Biet 2006a, xxi-xxii and 880-888) provides some biographical information on the author. Fonteny was born "in the second third of the 16th century and died around 1650", Biet reports, and apart from being an author of several plays and occasional poetry, he was the impresario or financial manager of the Hôtel de Bourgogne, where the oldest Paris theatre group performed and also rented out its hall. Early on in his life, Fonteny gained a certain notoriety in 1587 when he published what in later editions was titled Beau pasteur, a dramatic pastoral, as the genre was known at that time.4 While this "tragi-comédie pastorale", as Biet calls it, clearly displays the young author's erudition and was to introduce him to the court of Henri III, it is the first such piece that excludes shepherdesses from the main plot; it focuses instead on the amorous relationship between two shepherds and also features a riddle or énigme that the protagonists submit to a sorcerer for its solution. Indeed, Biet characterizes Fonteny as "one of the first gay and libertine theatrical authors", which may have been at the root of his problems as an impresario (Biet 2007). During much of his life, he continued writing occasional poetry that was often dedicated to members of the court, whom he also tried to interest in various of his historical publications. For the purposes of the authorship of the Livre d'Enigmes, a remark by his long-time friend Pierre de l'Estoille is relevant, who reported "que Fonteny adore ce genre" (Lachèvre 1968, 212-213), a suggestion supported by the 1589 publication of L’Ænigme dv Songe.
III. The Énigme as a Literary Genre in the 17th Century
This brief overview of Fonteny's literary production was intended to highlight certain aspects of the Wolfenbüttel manuscript that can be traced back to his œuvre. One element that needs to be examined further is the genre of the énigme or literary riddle that Fonteny had already worked into the Beau pasteur, and which features in the title of the Livre d'Enigmes manuscript. Riddles—among the oldest and most universal of genres—had been part of folklore since antiquity (Cronk 1986, 270-271). In French Renaissance literature, a collection came out as early as 1557 in Charles Fontaine's Odes, énigmes et épigrammes (Fontaine 1557; see Taylor 1948, 108-111, 7), and 1568 saw the publication of the anonymous Questions énigmatiques ([Verdier] 1568), both of them incorporating older folk materials which did not shy away from presenting obscene content. In the beginning of the 17th century, interest in the énigme grew stronger, doubtlessly under the influence of Italian models. Énigmes became fashionable in literary salons although the Jesuits early on saw their merits for instructional purposes and employed both verbal and visual riddles, for which they claimed relationship with the hieroglyph and, by extension, the new-fangled emblems (Montagu 1968, 307-309). Although énigmes were sometimes written in prose, verse form—usually the sonnet—was more common. The author of a 1638 edition of numerous enigmas, the Abbé Charles Cotin (Cotin 1638), traced them throughout Greek and Roman times citing examples from Josephus, Herodot, Plutarch or even from the Bible.5 In two programmatic introductions, he discussed the proper subject matter of an enigma and excluded vulgarity and religious subjects—the latter in themselves obscure enough and not suited for the intended readership in the salons. In line with Aristotle's Poetics, he stressed that the enigma gives pleasure while at the same time both the visual and the verbal énigmes exercise the mind; it is the "deferred clarity", as Nicholas Cronk has called it, that "helps account for the reader's (transitory) pleasure" (Cronk 1986, 273-275). This notion of a deferred clarity was Cotin's subterfugue in an era that witnessed an increased condemnation of poetic obscurity since the dogma of clarity began to gain the upper hand, as Pierre de Deimier, a contemporary of Malherbe, stated in his 1610 poetic treatise: "L'obscurité est un des plus grands vices qui se treuvent en la Poësie" (Deimier 1610, quoted in Montagu 1968, 307).
IV. Analysis of a Sonnet in the Livre d'Enigmes Inviting Reader
Participation in the Solution of an Enigma
Returning to the Wolfenbüttel manuscript after this brief overview of the genre of the French énigme and taking into consideration the title of this collection, we should assume that the 26 sonnets accompanying the small engravings do indeed contain such enigmas. This is not always the case, though. While Fonteny does incorporate énigmes in a number of the poems without overtly identifying them as such, there are only a couple of sonnets (fols. 10 r°, 16 r°) that explicitly invite the reader to find a solution. Sonnet 15 appears to be a two-part riddle (Bernasconi 1964, 42-45).6 This double enigma occurs under an illustration of a bleak winter landscape with a barren tree on which snow is falling— appropriately titled "neige" in the index on the last page.
1 L’æsté ie cours par tout ores dans une pree
Ores au bord d|une isle ou|la ieunesse uient
Se bagner auec moy, mais quand l’hiuer revient
Je ne cours ains ie uole en diuerse contree
5 Je uiens du Ciel ca [ça] bas tout de blanc acoustree [Huguet: bien disposé, arrangé, préparé]
Auec aultam [autant] de corps que le|nombe on n’en tient
Ma mere de ma perte en|grandeur s’entretient,
Aussi ne suis-ie pas de trop longue duree [MARGIN: mon royaume (?) de (?) quelques lieux [lieues(?)] est (?)]7
9 Au nom Latin que si J|ay si on adiouste encor
Trois lettres seulement qui forment le nom cor
Je seray un oiseau de couleur dissemblable.
12 A la blancheur d|un Cigne et dedans le mesme air
Ou je soulois couler on me uerra uoler
De ma forme premiere en rien n[‘]estant [étant] semblable.8
After having characterized the clouds that accompany young bathers in the summer and move to different lands in the winter, the poet introduces one of the two riddles in the entire collection for which he invites reader participation, a two-part énigme. It is worked into the couplet that precedes the third quatrain: First the reader has to adjust only three letters in the Latin word sought, the word for (masses of) snow, which is nix, nivis (but there is a Middle French form of nyvyer, "grande quantité de neige tombée à la fois", which works better) (Wartburg 1955, VII :156-157). The second part of the riddle requires the reader to adjust the three letters that form the root of the word, which produces the term for a bird "of dissimilar color", as the text suggests, namely nivereau (m; or niverolle, f), the snow finch (pinson de neige) (Littré 1957, V:742).
When we consider that there are only a couple of specific verbal riddles in the entire collection and that there certainly is not an énigme worked into every one of the remaining sonnets, are we to conclude that the overall title of the manuscript, Livre d'Enigmes, is a misnomer or that it was chosen in order to ride the crest of this new genre? The alphabetical index at the end of the manuscript (fol. 45 r°) may provide a twofold answer: Its primary purpose, of course, is a more precise identification of the subject matter of each of the 44 engravings although there is not always as clear and smooth a match between the engraving, the sonnet, and the title as had been the case with the example just analyzed, with "neige": The first manuscript page, for instance (fol. 2 r°), presumably shows a merchant keeping his books and writing on a tablet, but instead of listing the "marchant" identified in the first line of the sonnet, the index zeroes in on a detail when it has "tablettes", writing pads. This is not the only example of its kind, which turns the index listings into more of an essential solution to the visual and verbal riddles than one might have thought.
Apart from this primary reason for the index listings, there is a secondary one which relates more directly to the topic of this analysis: While the bipartite arrangement of each manuscript page that carries an engraving and a sonnet could be seen as para-emblematic, the inclusion of the respective index entry in our considerations brings this collection much closer into the fold of emblematics proper. In the early 1600s, theoreticians began to stress the proximity of enigmas with emblems (and hieroglyphs, for that matter), a relationship that best shows in Claude-François Ménestrier's overview at the end of the century in his 1694 work, La Philosophie des images énigmatiques, où il est traité des énigmes, hiéroglyphiques, oracles, prophéties [...] (Ménestrier 1694). Both the enigma and the emblem, theoreticians stated in reference to earlier neoplatonists, were exempla of veiled expressions, and while Cotin is the only enigmatic theorist to cite Plato in his defense, the later Ménestrier refers more specifically to St. Augustine, whose major works had become accessible in French translations in the 17th century (Cronk 1986, 278-281). While the actual set-up of Fonteny's manuscript pages thus does not follow the tripartite arrangement of an emblem proper, the incorporation of the 26 relevant "solutions" listed in the index—which, as I have tried to show above, often relate rather obliquely to both engraving and sonnet—complete the para-emblematic arrangememt of this manuscript even further. Last not least, the proximity to emblem materials becomes all the more evident when we look at illustrations that are at least similar to emblematic images, such as no. 3, a boy knocking down nuts from a black walnut tree (fol. 3 r°, "noix" ); the porcupine (fol. 14 r°, "érisson" ) or the innkeeper and a wine barrel (fol. 18 r°, "tavernier" ), to mention but a few.
V. Page-by-Page Analysis
1. The Form of the Sonnets
The form of Fonteny’s sonnets departs from the more customary rime scheme comprising two quatrains and two tercets. While this two-part scheme—with a "volta" or major caesura most often marking the end of the second quatrain—is used in French poetry throughout the 16th century, Fonteny in the Livre d’Enigmes uses a sonnet form that not only rearranged the last six lines into a quatrain and a couplet (Shakespeare does that at the same time) but reversed the order of these six lines to arrive at the following rime scheme: abba abba cc dede (or deed). This rime scheme was often use by French poets of the sixteenth century (Scott 1998, 107-110).
There is no doubt that the customary break between the octet with just two rimes and the sextet with a total of three rimes in only six lines creates a shift in tempo in the poem and accelerates the mode of the sonnet in this shorter second part. The use of the couplet right after the octet further enhances this juncture, especially when Fonteny introduces material hardly expected after the introductory quatrains, as in sonnet 9. This insertion of the couplet after the two quatrains also creates yet another, secondary volta or juncture in the beginning of the third quatrain, something that cannot always be said in Fonteny’s case.
The meter used by Fonteny is the alexandrine, with a caesura after the sixth syllable; it is rather strictly observed.
2. Fonteny’s Livre d’Enigmes—a Sonnet Sequence?
There is no question that Fonteny’s collection of 26 sonnets can be considered a sequence, especially when we consider the first, coherent group of 23 poems before pages without text begin to appear. Out of a total of 43 engravings (disregarding the coat of arms on the first page) 26 are accompanied by a sonnet; the remaining 16 folios only contain illustrations. The entire Livre d’Enigmes can be considered a thematic sequence by virtue of the unifying element of enigmatic references, which can be observed in the majority of these poems (Spiller 1997, 14-34).
3. The Engravings
The 44 engravings have so far defied any identification in their totality although fol. 4 r° contains what may well be an engraver’s (?) mark or seal, possibly a capital Y over A, with an ellipse holding the two letters together in the middle. Nonetheless this mark has not yet been found in relevant catalogs (Bryan 1816). Dr. Jean-Marc Chatelain, Curator of Rare Books at the Bibliothèque Nationale (Tolbiac), has put forth a different interpretation: He sees in this mark "un Phi et un Y entrelacés", which still does not lead him to any engraver’s name. For this reason he thinks that the mark may actually be an enlarged representation of initials carved on the two seal rings that a close look at the rings does indeed reveal. It is conceivable that this engraving may originally have been prepared for a different purpose, where the two initials would have been explained in an accompanying poem.9
Be that as it may, these engravings are in general of poor quality, which may account for the lack of any reference to the artist’s mark in source books. It is hard to conceive of these illustrations as a coherent sequence, and Fonteny has to be commended for successfully integrating the sonnets accompanying his selection in the overall enigmatic theme.
There are some pictorial references to illustrations from 16th-century emblems, as we have noticed above (Sect. IV), and textual references to emblematic representations can also be seen, as in the case of Deucalion and Pyrrha who replenish mankind (fol. 10 r°, "caillou")—yet none of the various relevant emblematic illustrations is really needed for the interpretation of the text as Fonteny specifically refers to Ovid in the sonnet. Some of the engravings without sonnets are similarly known from emblems, for instance the image of the mirror (fol. 31 r°, "miroir"), of an angry bull (fol. 44, "taureau") or of a ship in full sail (fol. 36 r°, "navire") while others, such as the picture of a trotting mule (fol. 42 r°, "mule") or of a millstone on a cart (fol. 33 r°, "moule") are more removed from the mainstay of earlier emblematic images.
The fact that there is a block of sonnets (nos. 1-23, fols. 2 r° - 24 r°) before the first non-commented engraving (fol. 25 r°), followed by three "nude" illustrations (fols. 27 r° - 29 r°) before yet another commented engraving (fol. 30 r°), four more nude illustrations (fols. 31 r° - 34 r°) and the last sonnet (fol. 35 r°) before the remaining 9 unaccompanied engravings (fols. 36 r° - 44 r°) can hardly be the result of the binding of the manuscript. It is more plausible that Fonteny wrote sonnets accompanying those engravings that suited his "enigmatic" theme most and inspired his creativity—although some of the "nude" illustrations, such as the well-worn (emblematic) mirror on fol. 31 r° or a ship on high seas (fol. 36 r°) should have also provided such inspiration. There are some engravings that may have been more elusive poetic subjects, such as the poorly illustrated millstone on a cart (fol. 33 r°) whose index listing, "moule", does not properly correspond to the engraving, or the similarly poorly executed trotting mule (fol. 42 r°) that did not spark Fonteny’s poetic inspiration.
But that raises the question of the make-up of the entire set of 43 (+1) illustrations. For reasons that range from the quality of execution to the subjects represented they are such a mixed bag that it would have taken an extraordinarily creative poet to craft sonnets accompanying all of them within the overall framework of "enigmas". Did Fonteny indeed "throw in the towel", so to speak?
4. Text and Image—A Para-Emblematic Sequence?
In the year 1600, the repeated interconnection of image and text on a page could certainly be considered para-emblematic, even emblematic when we consider some of the 16th-century emblem collections that did not include any titles. Nonetheless, there are major differences between, for instance, Guillaume de la Perrière’s original, 1540, version of the Theatre des bons engins or the later Morosophie of 1553 (La Perrière 1540, 1553). Even though Fonteny may follow such patterns that were well established by the time he wrote his sonnets, the underlying moral and didactic assumptions of much of 16th-century French emblem literature are lacking. (See Saunders 1988, esp. pp. 162-165). At best Fonteny tried to unite his sonnets through a unifying theme whose execution often put him on a collision course with preceding emblem books. And yet the introductory analysis has shown that such a bipartite arrangement of each manuscript page can be seen together with the respective index entry, which on a formal level brings this collection somewhat closer to the fold of emblematics proper.
While it has not yet been possible to identify the engraver, and although there certainly are quite a few images that have emblematic roots, the question remains why some of the better illustrations that are very close to emblem themes (such as the mirror in fol. 31; the ship [fol. 36]; the rose [fol. 41], or even the bellows in fol. 39) do not sport accompanying sonnets. We will never be able to determine why Fonteny did not complete the entire sequence, especially since engravings such as the ones just listed should have invited accompanying poems. The year of the writing of the manuscript—1600—found Fonteny at the height of his productivity, after all.
5. Analysis of Each of the Engravings and Accompanying Sonnets
This analysis follows a tripartite pattern:
- A: Description of the image.
- B: Explanation/Translation of the text: An explanatory translation is included although the two transcriptions of the manuscript should allow direct access to part (C), the interpretation of each of the sonnets. An explanation may consist of a rather close, literal, third person translation of the sonnet. Such a third-person explanation of the 14 sonnet lines avoids the awkward first-person identification of the narrator in the text, who after all is in many sonnets not a person but an object, an animal or the like—despite the fact that in English such references would normally have to use the neuter pronoun "it". Nonetheless this unexpected use of "she" or "he" is important since the possibility of the French language of playing with gender must be addressed when this becomes an issue—as is often the case in the sonnets when sexual innuendoes are intended in the original. Line references to the original and/or transcribed modern French text are given in parentheses. Since the interlinear or marginal corrections are frequently hard to decipher the original text version will normally be used in the explanations and translations, often along with parenthetical references to the corrections.
- C: Interpretation: The sometimes close translation of the 26 sonnets lays the ground for further text explication and interpretation, especially in the case of references to classical materials that may no longer be easily recognizable to the modern reader. Such a close reading also helps to elucidate some of the sexual innuendoes that Fonteny tends to work into the text, and—last but not least—it may help with the solution of "enigmas" imbedded in the poems, as they may otherwise not be easily discernible. A direct link from both the "Transcription of the Original Manuscript" and the "Modern French Transcription" to the tripartite analysis of each engraving and sonnet has been provided with [C] under the number of each folio, e.g., "[fol. 1r] [C] Coat of Arms".
VI. Closing Arguments
While there is no doubt that this manuscript of Fonteny’s is an interesting—not to say intriguing—work showing a young author trying to establish himself in the literary scene of the Paris of the early 17th century, it is clear that the Livre d’Enigmes is an uneven piece. There are excellent sonnets that fully complement the respective engravings, but there are several poems that should have been scrutinized again by the author beyond whatever (interlinear) corrections he may have made. The interplay between engravings and sonnets works well in quite a few of the cases, and one wonders how Fonteny would have proceeded with the remaining illustrations that do not always suggest ideal topics for such poetry. What is puzzling is the high quality of the copyist’s handwriting, which suggests that the manuscript kept at the Herzog August Bibliothek was indeed a printer’s copy—with, perhaps, Fonteny’s intention of completing it by pasting in additional sonnets, as fol. 30 might suggest.
I want to thank Dr. Thomas Stäcker and Dr. Christian Heitzmann, Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel, for their enthusiastic response to my suggestion to publish this manuscript electronically in the new Wolfenbütteler Digitale Bibliothek series of the HAB. This would not have come about without the dedicated editorial work of Dr. Eva Christina Glaser, who with Dr. Stäcker's help prepared the material for internet publication. Prof. Dr. Gotthardt Frühsorge, Wolfenbüttel, and Dr. Heitzmann lent their support in the elusive identification of the coat of arms featured in the manuscript. I also want to add my appreciation to the staff of the Dept. of Manuscripts and Old Prints at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich, where I enjoyed guest privileges during the various preparatory stages of this project.
Important impulses and suggestions came from French sources: Prof. Christian Biet, Université Paris X, Nanterre, himself a specialist on Fonteny, became closely involved with this project and connected me with Prof. Anne-Elisabeth Spica, Université de Lorraine (Metz), who--along with Dr. Jean-Marc Chatelain, Curator at the Réserve précieuse of the Bibliothèque Nationale, Tolbiac--analyzed the engravings in this manuscript and attempted to identify the elusive engraver(s). Most recently, Prof. Marie-Madeleine Fragonard has been involved in a possible print publication of this manuscript in the "Classiques Garnier" series and has undertaken a careful analysis of the original text. She provided a highly reliable transcription which has enhanced the quality of my own work.
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L’été je cours à toutes heures dans un pré
Ores maintenant au bord d’une île où la jeunesse vient
Se baigner avec moi, mais quand l’hiver revient
Je ne cours plus ainsi, mais plutôt je vole en diverses contrées.
Je viens du ciel là-bas tout de blanc apprêtée
Avec tant de corps masses que le compte on n’en tient.
Ma mère de ma perte en grandeur s’entretient
Aussi ne suis-je de trop longue durée.
[MARGIN: Alt: Mon royaume ne s’étend que sur quelques lieues].
Au nom latin que j’ai si l’on ajoute encore
Trois lettres seulement qui forment le nom cor [MARGIN: Alt: (qui forment) les lettres au milieu du mot cherché]
Je serai un oiseau de couleur dissemblable.
À la blancheur d’un cygne et dans le même air
Où je voulais couler on me verra voler -
À ma forme première en rien n’étant semblable.