Benserade, Isaac De

, a French poet and wit of the seventeenth century, was born at Lyons-la-Foret, a small town in Upper Normandy, in 1612. He was born but not educated a Protestant, his father having turned Catholic when he was very young; and when about seven or eight years of age, he went to be confirmed, the bishop who performed the ceremony asked him “if he was not willing to change his name of Isaac for one more Christian.” *‘ With all my heart,“replied he,” provided I get any thing by the exchange.“The bishop, surprized at such a ready answer, would not change his name.” Let his name be Isaac still,“said he,” for whatever it is, he will make the most of it." Benserade lost his father when he was very young; and being left with little fortune, and this much involved in law, he chose rather to give it up than sue for it. His mother’s name, however, being Laporte, he claimed relationship to the cardinal Richelieu, who without examining too nicely into the matter, had him educated, and would have provided for him in the church if he had not preferred the court, where he soon became famous for his wit and poetry; and Richelieu granted him a pension, which was continued till the death of this cardinal. It is probable that Benserade would have found the same protection in the duchess of Aiguillon, if the following four verses, which he had made on the death of the cardinal, had not given her great offence: |

" Cy gist, oui gist, par la mort-bleu, Here lies, alas ’tis true,

Le cardinal de Richelieu; Good cardinal de Richelieu'

Et ce qui cause mon ennuy, But what in truth disturbs me most

Ma pension avec luy." Is, that with him my pension’s lost.

After the death of Richelieu, he got into favour with the duke de Breze, another maternal relation whom he claimed, and whom he accompanied in most of his expeditions. When this nobleman died, he returned to court, where his poetry became highly esteemed; and he obtained of the cardinal Mazarin several pensions on ecclesiastical benefices, which, joined to the presents he received from the queen dowager and some rich and liberal ladies, amounted to an income of twelve thousand livres, and enabled him to keep a carriage, a species of luxury then unknown to poets.

We are told in one of Costar’s letters to the marchioness de Lavardin, that Benserade was named envoy to Christina, queen of Sweden; but he never went on this employment, and hence the humorous Scarron thus dates an epistle of his to the countess de Fiesque:

"L’an que la Sieur de Benserade

N’alla point à son ambassade."

Benserade had surprising success in what he composed for the court dramatic entertainments. There was an original turn in them which characterised at once the poetical divinities, and the persons who represented them. “With the description of the gods and other personages,” says the author of the “Recueil de bons contes,” supposed to be M. de Calliere, “who were represented in these interludes, he mixed lively pictures of the courtiers, who represented them, discovering their inclinations, attachments, and even their most secret adventures; but in a manner so agreeable and delicate, that those who were rallied were pleased, and his jests left no resentment or concern in their minds.” The sonnet which Benserade sent to a young lady, with his paraphrase on Job, implying that Job could reveal his griefs, but he was obliged to suffer in silence, rendered his name very famous. A parallel was drawn betwixt it and the Urania of Voiture; and a dispute thence arose, which divided the wits, and the whole court. Those who gave the preference to that of Benserade were styled the Jobists, and their antagonists the Uranists. The prince of Conti declared himself a Jobist, and the duchess de Longueville, an Uranist. | Benserade wrote rondeaus upon Ovid, some of which are reckoned tolerable, but upon the whole the attempt was too absurd for serious approbation; and his Ovid, without occasioning any controversy, dropt into oblivion almost as soon as it was published, although it appeared in a highly ornamented 4to, printed at Paris, 1676, with engravings to theexpence of which the king contributed 10,000 livres. So much was he attached to the rondeau, that his preface and even his errata are in the same species of composition. The latter is perhaps the best of the whole; as he candidly acknowledges that he can discover but two errors of any consequence, viz. the plan and the execution:

"Pour moi, parmi des fautes innombrables,

Je n’en connois que deux considerables,

Et dont je fais ma declaration,

C‘est l’enterprize et I’execution

A mon avis fautes irreparables

Dans ce volume."

Olivet, however, remarks that the execution is not worse than that of the author’s works in general; but the age of point and antithesis was gone before the rondeaus appeared, and a better taste was beginning to prevail. Some fables in the same style were Benserade’s last work of the amusing kind. Disgusted with the world, which he no longer pleased, he withdrew from court, and made Gentilly the place of his retirement. Olivet says that when he was a youth, it was the custom to visit the remains of the ornaments with which Benserade had embellished his house and gardens, where every thing savoured of his poetical genius. The barks of the trees were full of inscriptions, and Dr. Johnson has translated the lines “a son lit.

Theatre des ris, et des pleurs, &c.

"In bed we laugh, in bed we cry,

And born in bed, in bed we die

The near approach a bed may show

Of human bliss to human woe."

Mr. Voltaire is of opinion that these inscriptions were the best of his productions, and he regrets that they have not been collected. Benserade suffered at last so much from the stone, that, notwithstanding his great age, he resolved to submit to the operation of cutting. But his constancy was not put to this last proof, for a surgeon letting him blood by way of precaution, pricked an artery, | and, instead of endeavouring to stop the effusion of blood, Fan away Commire, his friend and confessor, was called in, who arrived in time to witness his death, Oct. 19, 1691. He had been a member of the French academy from 1674. Pascal says he was the repeater of many bad bons-mots, and those which his biographers have recorded are certainly of that description. His theatrical pieces, Cleopatra, the death of Achilles, &c. were printed singly from 1636 to 1641, 4to; but his whole works, including a selection from his rondeaus taken from Ovid, were printed at Paris, 1697, 2 vols. 12mo.1

1 Gen. Dict. —Moreri. Biog. Universelle. Perrault les Homtnes Illustres. Biographia Gallica. —Dict. Hist.orique.