“But if you look long enough to understand it, to conceive its sentiment, you will find that these wanton lines have a spirit guiding their caprices. For there is style there; one temper has shaded the whole; and everything that has style, that has been done as no other man or age could have done it, as it could never, for all our trying, be done again, has its true value and interest.”
—Walter Pater, The Renaissance, Fontana Library, 2nd imp., 1964, pp.170-71
Pater knows and declares that the Pléiade were nostalgists rather than modernists; making not a people’s art, but the poetry and prose of and for a courtly few and a vanishing culture, “the losing side, the forlorn hope”… And yet they were the first to see modern (meaning 16th century) French as the language of subtler expression, at once flippant and melancholy, helping dethrone a millennium’s uncritical reverence for classical Greek or Latin as the only tongues of literature and scholarship and wisdom — and they also began gently to set out the argument for the here-and-now as the better time to treasure, rather than eternity to come: “their dejection at the thought of leaving this fair abode of our common day…”
As established realism in the early 16th century this last perhaps only had unimpeachable appeal to a privileged few, but as a call to arms, is life is short so seize the day — despite its counterintuitive and unpromising provenance here — ever in the end anything but a call to a radical democracy?