French Renaissance Paleography


Nevers,[1] ca. 1550
Jehan Marion, Vers d’amour
Chicago, Newberry Library, VAULT Case MS 5026


The 19th-century poet, editor, and bookseller Prosper Blanchemain found this manuscript in a Paris bookshop and used it as the base text for his 1873 edition of the poems of Jehan (Jean) Marion (Blanchemain’s volume is available online). The manuscript bears Blanchemain’s bookplate. Only 100 numbered copies of Blanchemain’s edition of it were printed.

The manuscript contains a set of verses (which the author claims to have rendered out of prose) on questions pertaining to love, a French translation of a Latin poem admonishing children to draw near to Jesus Christ, and an assortment of other poems in various formats that were popular in the 15th and first half of the 16th century in France (rondeaux, quatrains, huitains, ballades, etc.). Blanchemain assumes that the manuscript is in Marion’s own hand. This seems very likely, but we don’t know for sure. Whoever the scribe was, there appears to have been an intention to put the most important poems – the more scholarly ones – at the beginning. But as Blanchemain remarks, the smaller poems assembled at the end are more representative of Marion himself, as a poet and personality.

This manuscript is the only document through which we know of this poet’s existence – there do not appear to have been any printed editions of his verses prior to Blanchemain’s discovery of the manuscript. It’s possible that Marion moved in the kinds of social circles that would have caused some of his verses to be set to music, in which case they might appear in published or manuscript anthologies of chansons. This remains to be investigated.

Fortunately Jehan Marion provides his name internally in the collection, in several places, including the acrostic poem that we have reproduced, where his name is presented vertically in the initials at the beginning of the lines (fol. 37r). Working from the first-person material in the poems, which appears to be autobiographical, Blanchemain concluded that this poet must have been the Jean Marion who was the fifth son (born in 1540) of a notary in Nevers, in Burgundy. An itinerant schoolmaster in his youth, he returned regularly to his home town, where he eventually married, had a son who lived for only a week, became a magistrate, and died in about 1579 or 1580. The Count of Soultrait, however, argued to Blanchemain (in a letter that Blanchemain reproduced at the end of his edition) that this was Jean Marion, the son of a goldsmith in Nevers named Pierre Marion, who, after a rather peripatetic youthful existence, later went to serve as a soldier in Poland under the Duke of Anjou. In short, this may have been the impoverished cousin of the more important branch of the family – that is, the more colorful figure of the bohemian poet-soldier. We like to think of these verses as being read aloud or sung on the road, and so we have included in our website an out-loud reading of the acrostic poem (click here).


Marion, Jean. Rondeaulx et vers d’amour. Ed. Prosper Blanchemain. Geneva: Slatkine Reprints, 1969 (Paris: Léon Willem, 1873).