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Wilhelm Ténint

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The Paris of the early eighteen-forties may not have been the besieged Paris of the early fifteen-nineties, but it still had its share of partisan upheavals, both literary and political, and it is in this disputatious context that Ténint’s Prosodie de l’école moderne must be placed. Literarily, the lion of the day was Victor Hugo, who was a giant (the giant) of French Romanticism in verse as well as in prose and drama. Romanticism had gained ascendancy over a lingering neoclassicism in France sometime in the late eighteen-twenties, when a number of important works appeared: Emile Deschamps’ preface to his 1828 Etudes françaises et étrangères (Studies French and Foreign), which served as a manifesto to the Romantic movement; Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve’s Tableau historique et critique de la poésie française et du théatre française au XVIe siècle (Historical and Critical Tableau of French Poetry and French Theater in the Sixteenth Century), which championed the revival of the emotional and idealistic literature of the Renaissance; Alfred de Vigny’s passionate version of Othello, first performed in 1829; and Victor Hugo’s formally and thematically controversial play Hernani, which debuted in February of 1830. 1 The greater colloquialism and social awareness of Romantic literature coincided with an ideologically similar political shift. The July Revolution of 1830 removed the autocratic King Charles X and replaced him with a more liberal monarch, Louis-Philippe, whose amenability to a democratic ideal wherein leaders are chosen by the people rather than by God was marked by his rule as “King of the French” rather than “King of France.” During the eighteen-thirties and most of the eighteen-forties Romanticism still had its clashes with the lofty traditions of classicism (embodied in the powerful and conservative Académie française), but there were also other factions to contend with. As early as 1833, in the preface to his collection of poems titled Albertus, ou, l’âme et le péché (“Albertus, or, Soul and Sin”), Théophile Gautier objected to the neo-Platonic Romantic principle that art should be of social utility. His objections would bear twins: the schools of Art for Art’s Sake and Parnassianism, both of which “advocated the liberation of art from the kind of [Romantic] didacticism that tended to render it subservient to specific causes and programs during the reigns of Louis-Philippe and Louis-Napoleon from 1830 to 1870” (Denommé 1). Gautier’s 1852 poem “L’Art,” written in response to a poem by Théodore de Banville, would come to be regarded as the essential verse redaction of the principles of Art for Art’s Sake. 2 Ténint’s Prosodie, with its preface by Emile Deschamps and its letter of endorsement by Victor Hugo, immediately positioned itself as belonging to the Romantic school; its natural emphasis on technique, however, made it a useful text in the following years for Parnassianism.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Little was known about Wilhelm Ténint prior to Patricia Siegel’s introduction to the 1987 reprint of the Prosodie de l’école moderne, whose full title is Wilhelm Ténint et sa Prosodie de l’école moderne, avec des documents inédits (Wilhelm Ténint and His Prosody of the Modern School, With Previously Unpublished Documents). The editors of the 1986 edition of Theóphile Gautier’s correspondence, for example, were unable to discover anything about Ténint besides the fact of his works: “Nous ne savons rien sur ce littérateur qui écrivait la Prosodie de l’Ecole moderne en 1843; Les Français sous la Révolution en 1846 et trois romans (deux en 1845 et un sans date)” (“We know nothing of this author who wrote the Prosody of the Modern School in 1843, The French Under the Revolution in 1846 and three novels (two in 1845 and one undated”) (Gautier, Correspondance, II.362). Siegel’s thorough labor paints a fascinating portrait of this inglorious (though not mute) figure.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Siegel characterizes Wilhelm Ténint as a minor writer on the make, an acquaintance of canonized figures such as Emile Deschamps and Théophile Gautier and a worshipful disciple of the deity Victor Hugo. 3 Born in 1813, Ténint became a petty official at the Ministry of the Interior in Paris at about the age of twenty-one. Paris was at that time rife with journals espousing this or that aesthetic and/or political cause, and there was little distinction between the literary author (of poetry, novels, plays) and the journalist. Ténint became a member of the gangland coterie that spent its time in founding reviews, collecting funds for reviews, writing contributions to reviews, applauding allied reviews, excoriating enemy reviews, and even fighting duels over reviews. In 1836, Émile de Girardin fought and killed one Armand Carrel over trivial circumstances related to the founding of Girardin’s opinionated, inexpensive, and consequently highly popular review La Presse–to which Ténint became a contributor in 1840. 4 Siegel, attempting to account for this success by “un jeune inconnu” (“a young unknown”), speculates that Ténint’s friendship with the brother of editor Augustin Challamel may have given him entrée into these circles (9). Girardin’s wife Delphine, however–herself a noted journalist and saloniste–opined in an 1839 entry in her Chroniques Parisiennes (Parisian Chronicles) that nothing was simpler for a young man than to make a name for himself by way of the reviews:

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 On dit enfin: Il est difficile de se faire un nom à Paris! Mensonge! rien n’est plus facile aujourd’hui. Il paraît chaque matin, il s’imprime chaque semaine cent journaux ennemis et vingt revues rivales qui ne savent que dire, et qui s’estiment trop heureux quand vous voulez bien leur fournir gratis quelques pages amusantes, quand vous leur donnez l’occasion de dire un peu de mal de leur ennemi en vous vantant. Rien n’est plus facile pour un jeune homme de talent que de se faire un nom dans les journaux. Demandez plutôt à ces vieux journalistes sans talent qui sont si célèbres. (201)

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Finally, they say, “It’s hard to make a name for yourself in Paris.” Lie! Nothing is easier today. Published every morning, printed every week are a hundred enemy journals and twenty rival reviews that do nothing but talk, and which esteem themselves only too happy when you want to furnish them with some amusing pages for nothing, giving them the chance to say something a little malicious about their enemy while you show off. Nothing is easier for a young man of talent than to make a name in the journals. Ask rather about these old journalists without talent who are so celebrated.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Ténint was undoubtedly just such a young man of talent in the early eighteen-forties, and he engaged in the hotly debated issues of the day–quite possibly at the salon of Madame de Girardin herself, whom he much admired: he published a flattering article on her writings in 1841. By 1842, Ténint was accepted as a member of the Société des Gens de Lettres (Society of Men of Letters).

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 One of the many review wrangles concerned the legitimacy of Hugolian poetic form, which departed from many of the neoclassical poetic norms of the eighteenth century. The first lines of Hugo’s 1830 play Hernani, for example, threw down the formal gauntlet with a particularly brash enjambment. Hugo also frequently introduced two caesuras rather than one into the twelve-syllable Alexandrine that had dominated French verse since the seventeenth century, so that the line was subtly divided into three parts rather than two. (This three-part line is called trimètre, which is of course not the equivalent of the English “trimeter.”) Hugo and other French Romantic poets also experimented with short line lengths and novel rhyme schemes, often creating unity in their verse with stronger degrees of rhyme than usual. 5
The neoclassicists scoffed at the irregularity of such vers brisés (“broken lines”), and therefore both Gautier and Deschamps called for a new kind of prosody, one that would include and legitimize the new poetry. Ténint took up this challenge.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Ténint completed a manuscript of the Prosodie and sent it to the lofty Victor Hugo, who vaguely but graciously praised the work in a letter dated May 16, 1843. This letter was published with the Prosodie itself early in 1844, along with a preface by Emile Deschamps (adapted from an earlier article titled “Nécessité d’une Prosodie” [“The Necessity of a Prosody”]). There is also convincing evidence that Ténint was helped in his work by Théodore de Banville, who was then the newest darling of Parisian literary Romantics–a twenty-year-old wunderkind whose 1842 collection of poetry Les Cariatides had earned him much acclaim. This evidence is as follows: Ténint’s Prosodie had a very small first edition that was deposited in the Bibliothèque Nationale in 1843 and published in January of 1844; a copy of this first edition at the Bibliothèque Nationale has marginal corrections concerning La Fontaine that several experts agree are in the handwriting of Banville. The second, larger edition published by Didier later in 1844 includes those corrections; hence the conclusion (persuasive, though otherwise undocumented) that Banville collaborated with Ténint in revising, perhaps even in writing, the Prosodie.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 The entry for “La villanelle” in the Prosodie, which appears just after an entry on “L’echo ou couronnée” and just before one on “Le triolet,” quotes “J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle” in full in the character of a representative example. The explication of the form is clearly prescriptive, addressed to a reader who wants to know the rules so that s/he may follow them in original compositions. The full text is as follows:

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Vieux rhythme, d’une grâce et d’une naïveté charmantes, à qui plusieurs poètes modernes ont essayé de rendre la vogue. 6

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Un exemple vaudra mieux que toutes les explications; voici le chef-d’oeuvre des villanelles:

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 J’ai perdu ma tourterelle.
N’est-ce point elle que j’oi?
Je veux aller après elle.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Tu regrettes ta femelle.
Hélas! ainsi fais-je, moi.
J’ai perdu ma tourterelle.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Si ton amour est fidèle,
Aussi est ferme ma foi.
Je veux aller après elle.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Ta plainte se renouvelle.
Toujours plaindre je me doi.
J’ai perdu ma tourterelle.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 En ne voyant plus ma belle,
Plus rien de beau je ne voi.
Je veux aller après elle.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Mort que tant de fois j’appelle,
Prends ce qui se donne à toi.
J’ai perdu ma tourterelle.
Je veux aller après elle.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Jean Passerat

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 On remarquera que la villanelle est une sorte de terza rima faite d’un bout à l’autre avec les mêmes rimes. Le premier et le dernier vers du premier tercet finissent à tour de rôle les tercets suivants. Seulement on doit s’arrêter sur un tercet finissant par le premier vers (J’ai perdu ma tourterelle), parce que le dernier vers (Je veux aller après elle) est destiné à former le noeud. (258-9)

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 An old form, of a charming grace and naïveté, which many modern poets have tried to make fashionable.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 One example will be worth more than all explanations; here is the masterpiece of villanelles: [text of “J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle”].

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 One will notice that the villanelle is a kind of terza rima constructed with the same rhymes laid end to end. The first and the last lines of the first tercet complete the following tercets in turn. But one must stop on a tercet finishing with the first line (“I have lost my turtledove”), because the last line (“I want to go after her”) is destined to tie the knot.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Several points are worthy of remark. First, the terms “grace” and “naïveté” are well-worn red flags waved in the face of the thudding rationality of the neoclassicists, and embodied in those two terms is the Romantic rejection of all that is bourgeois. Aristocratic grace or peasant naïveté, but nothing in the crass between. “J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle” would come to be much admired in the nineteenth century precisely for its naïveté, though it was, as I have argued, a perfect mimcry of naïveté (rather like the ballads of Burns) instead of an “authentic” naïveté. Second, Ténint defines the villanelle not as a nineteen-line fixed form, but as a stanza type; Banville in his poems and in his 1872 Petit traité de poésie française would do likewise, and most French poets attempting the villanelle adopted this model. It was primarily the English poets who would come to adopt the stricter nineteen-line model.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 It should also be noted that Ténint’s claim that many modern poets have been trying to make the villanelle fashionable cannot be substantiated. There are no known villanelles on the Passerat model prior to 1845 (other than “J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle,” of course). Ténint might well have been thinking of Gautier’s 1837 “Villanelle Rythmique,” but this poem was not on the Passerat model (being a villanelle strictly by the earlier “pastoral song” definition, consisting of three stanzas with the rhyme scheme ababcdcd), and in any case it was a lone example. 7 Yet it is generally true that Romantic poets were beginning to revive Renaissance forms at this time. Ténint claims that the villanelle is In, and that is false; but he also claims that the sonnet is In, and that claim has at least a grain of truth. Siegel contradicts Ténint’s claim that the poets of his day were writing many sonnets, but it may be more true than she concedes. “L’école moderne a remis le sonnet en vigueur,” writes Ténint. “Quelques poètes ont publié même des volumes entiers de sonnets, ce qui est pousser beaucoup trop loin le culte de ce rythme charmant” (234-5) (“The modern school has brought the sonnet back to vigor. Some poets have even published entire volumes of sonnets, which is pushing the cult of this charming form too far”). Siegel annotates these sentences with a blunt “L’existence de ce recueil est une invention de Ténint” (“The existence of this collection is an invention of Ténint’s”) (235). As Siegel points out, Gautier and Sainte-Beuve had begun to champion the previously moribund form, but their work would not begin to bear fruit in French until later in the century. But while the revival of the sonnet in French had not yet taken hold, there were in fact famous collections of Romantic sonnets in other languages that would surely have been familiar to Ténint. Wordsworth’s Sonnets had been published in 1838, for instance, and the renowned Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz (who lived as an expatriate in Paris throughout the eighteen-thirties) had published two volumes of sonnets in 1826 that were well-known in Parisian Romantic circles. 8 Ténint, therefore, is not inventing things in this instance. Nevertheless, if other young French Romantics besides Ténint and Banville in 1844 were admiring Passerat and writing villanelles in their own language, no trace remains of it.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 The reputation of France in international Romantic circles is certainly one of the concerns inflecting Ténint’s Prosodie, and that concern is probably one of the chief causes of Ténint’s claim that the villanelle is popular. France was tardy to Romanticism; the movement in England and Germany had begun in the late eighteenth century–fueled, of course, by fascination with the passionate ideals of the French Revolution–whereas (as I mentioned above) it was not until the eighteen-twenties that French authors and intellectuals began to be strongly influenced by the ardent iconoclasm of Romantic principles. Henri Peyre speculates that it may have been the Revolution itself, almost paradoxically, that delayed Romanticism in France:

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 The immediate impact of the events of 1789-1791 was felt more keenly by German and English poets than by French writers, in spite of the fact that the latter witnessed the development of this astounding series of incidents and some even took part in them. . . . In 1820 and even a little later, the memory of emigration, the Reign of Terror, compulsory military service under Napoleon, and the invasion of their country in 1814 and 1815 was still too fresh in their minds. (56, 58)

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Ténint and other French Romantics (especially Sainte-Beuve) were acutely conscious of their nation’s laggardry in this international intellectual movement, and they worked hard to build a literature in French that could measure up to the literature of Goethe and Byron. No mention is made by either Berthelin or Ténint of the Italian villanella, and since the example they cite is French, it certainly looks as though they both regarded the villanelle as a French form (again, like the triolet). Ténint does aver that the villanelle is “a kind of terza rima,” but the implicit claim seems to be that it is a French version of that Italian form. To champion the villanelle was to champion France. To claim that many poets were writing villanelles was to claim that French literature was influential.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 A final point to remark upon in Ténint’s villanelle entry is that the text of “J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle” he gives is very corrupt. Two words are entirely changed (“celle” to “elle” and “aussi” to “ainsi”), and there are a great many other, smaller variants. Ténint’s text is so corrupt that textual collation (see Appendix III) is insufficient to determine whether his text was taken from the Berthelin apparatus of the Richelet rhyming dictionary, but editions of the Richelet rhyming dictionary had appeared in 1810 and 1817, and these would probably have been more available to Ténint than any of the three seventeenth- and eighteenth-century works that printed the text. The kind of poetry Ténint and the other Romantics were writing could scarcely have been written without a rhyming dictionary. The ambiguities in the Richelet rhyming dictionary (discussed above) probably contributed to Ténint’s belief that the villanelle was a schematic form. It is also highly likely that Ténint had read about Passerat in Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve’s monumental and popular Tableau historique et critique de la poésie française et du théâtre français au XVIe siècle, first published 1828, which had been republished in 1838, 1842, and 1843. Sainte-Beuve’s work devotes eight pages to Passerat, but does not mention, let alone reprint, “J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle.” Still, Ténint’s attention to Passerat might well derive from Sainte-Beuve’s influence.

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Attempts to promote the Prosodie were largely unsuccessful. Gautier published a review in Girardin’s La Presse on the fifteenth of January, 1844, almost simultaneous with the publishing of the Prosodie itself. In that review (which Siegel reprints in full), Gautier defends the Romantics as the true inheritors of the classical spirit, lauds Hugo and Lamartine for their work in freeing French poetry from the bonds of the Alexandrine, and carefully praises Ténint’s work for its contribution to the study of versification and the promotion of Romanticism:

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 Par une contradiction assez bizarre, les hommes qui se prétendent classiques en s’opposant aux coupes et aux enjambements des vers romantiques, ne s’aperçoivent pas qu’ils sont imités des poètes grecs et latins, objet de leur admiration exclusive; ainsi, André Chenier, cette abeille de l’anthologie, est plein de vers brisés, de même que Ronsard et les poètes de la Pléiade, qui savaient l’Iliade et l’Odyssée par coeur, et composaient couramment sur tous les mètres dans la langue d’Homère et de Virgile. […] Déjà Lamartine avec ses grands coups d’ailes, ses élégances enchevêtreés commes des lianes en fleurs, ses larges périodes, ses vastes nappes de vers s’étalent commes des fleuves d’Amérique avait fait crever de toutes parts le vieux moule de l’alexandrin; mais il restait encore beaucoup à faire. […] Le livre de M. Wilhem Ténint, comme il le dit lui-même, ne fera pas un poète; mais s’il faisait quelques versificateurs, ce serait déjà un assez beau résultat; il servira surtout à prouver aux gens du monde que l’école romantique ne procède pas à l’aventure; et ces vers brisés en apparence exigent de longs travaux, de patient combinaisons, sont plus riches de rimes, plus sobres d’inversions et de licences grammaticales que les vers qu’ils s’imaginent d’être des chefs-d’oeuvre de pureté, parce qu’ils sont tout simplement monotones. (49-52)

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 By a rather bizarre contradiction, the men who pretend to classicism in opposing the caesuras and enjambments of Romantic verse do not perceive that they are imitations of Greek and Latin poets, the object of their exclusive admiration; thus, André Chenier, that anthology bee, is full of broken lines, just like Ronsard and the poets of the Pléiade, who knew the Iliad and the Odyssey by heart, and wrote fluently in all meters in the language of Homer and Virgil. […] Already Lamartine with his grand wing-strokes, his elegant entanglements like flowering creepers, his generous periods, his vast sheets of verse flooding like the rivers of America have burst open the ancient oyster of the Alexandrine; but there remains much to be done. […] Mr. Wilhem Ténint’s book, as he says himself, will not make a poet; but if it makes some versifiers, that will be a good enough result; it will serve above all to prove to the world that the Romantic school does not proceed haphazardly; and these apparently broken lines demand extensive work, patient combinations, are richer in rhyme, more sober in inversions and grammatical liberties than the verses which they imagine to be masterpieces of purity, because they are merely monotones.

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 This excerpt shows the extent to which Ténint’s work was seen as a partisan tool, one explicitly produced as a theoretical justification of Romanticism; it is tempting to suggest that this unabashed and exclusive partisanship was partly responsible for the unwillingness of readers to repose much faith in it. It is important to remember that even though the Prosodie did receive stamps of approval from Hugo, Deschamps, Banville, Gautier, and a few other Romantic poets and critics, these endorsements have a rather perfunctory quality. Even its champions do not respect it much.

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 We can also see in the above excerpt that the chief tactic in Gautier’s and Ténint’s project of justification is a reference to history, specifically to the classically-trained humanist poets of the Renaissance. In a way such a tactic was paradoxical, because we can see that Gautier is above all defending the right of contemporary literature to be contemporary. To exist at all, it seems. His commitment is to the present and future of French literature: “There remains much to be done,” he writes, perpetually inviting his audience to help him do it. Ténint’s prescriptivism operates with the same invitational rhetoric. Yet rather than rejecting the idea of historical models–rather than claiming an exclusive or even primary allegiance to “the new”–Gautier, Ténint, and the Romantic school in general merely maintain their right to choose slightly different models than those held up for their emulation and to choose what form their emulation shall take. We can see, therefore, how important it was to the Romantics to excavate Renaissance models, and we can see how this exigency could have led to an over-enthusiastic archaeology in the case of the villanelle. But they were the bones of a pigeon, not a pterodactyl.

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Siegel produces evidence that Ténint, in 1851, was placed under house arrest “pour fait de pederastie” (“for committing pederasty”). 9 Ténint thereafter left Paris for Sweden, where he pursued a literary career under the name Louis Guillaume Ténint, eventually translating French works into Swedish and Swedish works into French. This piece of history probably also helps to explain why Ténint and his works were so quickly forgotten; almost all trace of him disappeared from French annals after 1851. Even the Society of Men of Letters apparently destroyed their records of Ténint’s membership. 10 Ténint’s story also suggests certain parallels with the sexually scandalous careers of Wilde and Swinburne; Wilde wrote villanelles in the eighteen-eighties, as Swinburne might have done had he not chosen social and literary retirement in 1879. Ténint did not, therefore, succeed in making a name for himself in Paris–or at least not a name he might have chosen–but his work did have some effect.


35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 Notes:

  1. 36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0
  2. See Henri Peyre, What Is Romanticism? trans. Roda Roberts (University, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1977) 50-3.
  3. See Théophile Gautier, Poésies complètes de Théophile Gautier, ed. René Jasinski, 3 vols. (Paris: A. G. Nizet, 1970) III.128 for the full text of “L’Art.”
  4. The following account is drawn from the introduction to Patricia Joan Siegel, ed., Wilhelm Ténint et sa Prosodie de l’école moderne: Avec des documents inédits (Paris et Genève: Slatkine Reprints, 1986) 7-53.
  5. For an account of the duel, see Pierre Pellissier, Emile de Girardin, prince de la presse, Collection divers faits (Paris: Denoël, 1985), 98-113.
  6. On Hugolian trimètre, see Clive Scott, French Verse-Art: A Study (Cambridge [Eng.]; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980) 66-68; on Hernani, see Théophile Gautier, Victor Hugo (Paris: E. Fasquelle, 1902).
  7. For some reason, both Ténint and Banville prefer the spelling “rhythme” to the correct modern French spelling, “rythme.” “Rhythme” seems to be a fairly common misspelling or alternate spelling in French. Throughout, I translate it as “form” rather than as “rhythm,” since I believe the former translation better conveys the meaning of the term in the nineteenth-century context than the English cognate.
  8. For the text of Gautier’s “Villanelle Rythmique,” see Gautier, Poésies complètes, II.208. McFarland points out that Gautier’s poem “attests to the renewal of interest in Renaissance forms” and that it “in subject matter and tone resembles the work of the Pléiade poets” (46), both of which I would agree with. But McFarland also considers the poem “irregular,” since it is not on the Passerat model, which is a term I would not agree with, the form not having yet been regularized.
  9. The evidence for the genuine fame of Mickiewicz and of his two volumes of sonnets in Parisian Romantic circles of the eighteen-thirties and eighteen-forties is too copious to be listed here. See Jean Bourrilly, “Mickiewicz and France,” Adam Mickiewicz in World Literature: A Symposium, ed. Waclaw Lednicki (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1956) 243-79 and Zofia Mitosek, Adam Mickiewicz aux yeux des Français : textes réunis, établis et présentés avec l’introduction, commentaires, et notes (Warzsawa and Paris: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Pwn Cnrs, 1992).
  10. It is unclear to me whether “pederasty” in this context means child molestation or homosexuality; I am inclined to think that it means a Hellenized version of the latter, but I would welcome other opinions.
  11. See Siegel 14.
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