A calm estate

St Bartholomew's Day, 1572

Sir John Everett Millais’ Mercy: St. Bartholomew’s Day, 1572, depicting an anti-Protestant zealot momentarily restrained by a nun’s supplication. Roughly seventy thousand Huguenots were killed in a wave of massacres that lasted from August to October 1572; Jean-Antoine de Baïf, although the most educated of the group of seven French poets known as La Pléiade and a co-founder of the Académie de Poésie et de Musique, penned a sonnet in celebration of the event. Other literary responses were more sophisticated (and less bloodthirsty). Several years after the killings Huguenot poet Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas wrote La Sepmaine, an immensely popular epic about the world’s creation by God. In his conclusion to the seventh day — during which “Th’ Eternall doth his glorious works survay” — Du Bartas reflects on the importance of civic unity and order, comparing a nation to a human body whose parts exist in harmony:

You Princes, Pastors, and ye Chiefs of War,
Do not your Laws, Sermons, and Orders mar;
Lest your examples banefull leprosies
Infect your Subjects, Flocks, and Companies;
Beware your evill make not others like;
For, no Part’s sound if once the Head be sick.


Nor can I see, where underneath the sky
A man may finde a juster Policy,
Or truer Image of a calme Estate
Exempt from Faction, Discord, and Debate,
Then in th’ harmonious Order that maintains
Our Bodie’s life, through Members’ mutuall pains:
Where, one no sooner feels the least offence,
But all the rest have of the same a sense.

– Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas, La Sepmaine (1578), trans. Joshua Sylvester as The Divine Weeks and Works (1605)


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