Jean Baptiste Louis Gresset - Encyclopedia

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JEAN BAPTISTE LOUIS GRESSET (1 7 0 91 777), French poet and dramatist, was born at Amiens on the 29th of August 1709. His poem Vert Vert is his main title to fame. He spent, however, the last twenty-five years of his life in regretting the frivolity which enabled him to produce this most charming of poems. He was brought up by the Jesuits of Amiens. He was accepted as a novice at the age of sixteen, and sent to pursue his studies at the College Louis le Grand in Paris. After completing his course he was appointed, being then under twenty years of age, to a post as assistant master in a college at Rouen. He published Vert Vert at Rouen in 1734. It is a story, in itself exceedingly humorous, showing how a parrot, the delight of a convent, whose talk was all of prayers and pious ejaculations, was conveyed to another convent as a visitor to please the nuns. On the way he falls among bad companions, forgets his convent language, and shocks the sisters on arrival by profane swearing. He is sent back in disgrace, punished by solitude and plain bread, presently repents, reforms and is killed by kindness. The story, however, is nothing. The treatment of the subject, the atmosphere which surrounds it, the delicacy in which the little prattling ways of the nuns, their jealousies, their tiny trifles, are presented, takes the reader entirely by surprise. The poem stands absolutely unrivalled, even among French contes en vers. Gresset found himself famous. He left Rouen, went up to Paris, where he found refuge in the same garret which had sheltered him when a boy at the College Louis le Grand, and there wrote his second poem, La Chartreuse. It was followed by the Careme impromptu, the Lutrin vivant and Les Ombres. Then trouble came upon him; complaints were made to the fathers of the alleged licentiousness of his verses, the real cause of complaint being the ridicule which Vert Vert seemed to throw upon the whole race of nuns and the anti-clerical tendency of the other poems. An example, it was urged, must be made; Gresset was expelled the order. Men of robust mind would have been glad to get rid of such a yoke. Gresset, who had never been taught to stand alone, went forth weeping. He went to Paris in 1740 and there produced Edouard III, a tragedy (1740) and Sidnei (1745), a comedy. These were followed by Le Mechant which still keeps the stage, and is qualified by Brunetiere as the best verse comedy 9f the French 18th century theatre, not excepting even the Metromanie of Alexis Piron. Gresset was admitted to the Academy in 1748. And then, still young, he retired to Amiens, where his relapse from the discipline of the church became the subject of the deepest remorse. He died at Amiens on the 16th of June 1777.

The best edition of his poems is A. A. Renouard's (i 8 r i). See Jules Wogue, J. B. L. Gresset (1894).

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