“Funeral Oration for Henriette-Marie of France, Queen of Great Britain,” Translated from the French, with an Introduction
Appeared in Summer/Autumn/Winter 2004, vol. XXIX, Nos. 2, 3, 4
“The translator is a traitor,” runs the old proverb, and how very true that is in the case of the oratorical works of the great Bossuet. Today this oration is studied even in the secularist schools of the French Republic on account of its remarkable stylistic vigor, and so it has now by turns charmed and amazed three centuries of readers. If some apology be necessary for turning Bossuet’s classical French, whose beauty has often been deemed untranslatable, into prosaic American English, it is that few can now read French with anything like ease or pleasure, and that it is too great a shame that works like this be lost and forgotten by the Anglophone world. The essential excellence of Bossuet’s oration can perhaps only be appreciated by those accustomed to listening to sermons. How rare is the experience in our day of eloquence in pulpit oratory, or even the well-ordered exposition of a theme. In the France of Louis XIV, precision and power of expression were great ideals, both for poets such as Racine and for churchmen. Nobles in Paris would even send their servants a day ahead of time in order by their physical presence to reserve a seat at a sermon by a notable preacher. Of all the great preachers of the day-and there were several immortals among them – Bossuet stands alone as the one who best combined theological vision, rhetorical craft, sensitivity to the beauty of words, and, not least, soulful and penetrating meaning.
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